Monday 25 February 2013

Cobbetts & HMV: The Lessons For Law Firms

Halliwells, Dewey and LeBoeuf and now Cobbetts. Three high profile law firms who have gone bankrupt in the last few years. If I am honest, I am surprised that we don’t have more law firms on this list. Perhaps this is because, as my good friend David Tovey says, professional service firms don’t go under, they just merge! In fact, I am not alone, in September 2012, the association of Business Recovery Professionals (R3) predicted that just under 25% of law firms were at risk of going bust.

However, if you look at big retailers who have gone into administration over the last few years, it is a sobering exercise. Companies with proud heritages and previously solid profit and loss accounts such as HMV, Blockbusters, Jessops, Clinton Cards, Woolworths, Habitat et al have all gone to the wall. Leaving behind them empty shop fronts and a dwindling sense of purpose for the UK's high streets.

There are many people, particularly in relation to HMV going into administration, who point the blame squarely at the on-line retailing giants such as Amazon. Or they point the blame at us, the consumer. How could we dare to let our high street die a long and slow death? Why have we chosen convenience and better customer service?

My viewpoint on this matter is actually very different, these retailers failed to notice and act promptly when the internet changed the way we shop. In 2002 Philip Beeching, advertising executive who had held the HMV account for many years, told the MD and assembled directors in a pitch for their future business:

"The three greatest threats to HMV are, online retailers, downloadable music and supermarkets discounting loss leader products."

The meeting came to a very abrupt end and Philip was chucked out of the building. The MD had dismissed his opinion as rubbish, saying that users downloading music from the internet was a passing fad. Consumers would always want to buy their music from a store. (For the full story see The Media Briefing blog article written by Patrick Smith.) It's that unwillingness to look ahead and see the writing on the wall which, in my opinion, the high street law firm is suffering from at the moment.

I am not a lone voice in this opinion. Take Richard Susskind in his recent article on legal futures where he says that there is no future for the high street firm. Interestingly the first comment on his article, says:

"Susskind spouts alarmist rubbish in a vain effort to convince the wealth of doubters that he is worth listening to. He isn’t."

This comment neatly sums up where many of the partners in high street law firms are sat - head in the sand and like the HMV CEO, chucking out people who are trying to show they how they will need to change and adapt to remain in business.

Cobbetts may have ultimately collapsed because of high debts, high overheads and two quarter’s disastrous trading conditions, but how much of their commercial woes are down to their inability to adjust to the changing legal market place? This was a firm with a very strong property specialism, which makes you wonder whether the partners just refused to adapt to the changing ways consumers are now buying legal services.

Let's look dispassionately, at the typical high street law firm. How many of them are acting in a truly client centric way? Very few (excluding the great work being done by Quality Solicitors in this space) I would suggest. Can you ring or speak to your lawyer about your house purchase outside of 9-5, mon to friday? I doubt it. Does your solicitor come to your house at a time convenient to you to help you with writing your will? It's no wonder that we now have a thriving will writer's industry all prepared to come to you and work with you at a time and a place convenient to you.

How long will it take for us, the consumers, to vote with our feet and choose a legal service that's transparent, efficient (after all the billable hour rewards anything but efficiency), client centric, and delivered in a way that convenient for us rather than the firm of solicitors.

In ten years time, will we be moaning the end of the high street law firm and pointing the finger squarely at the Quality Solicitors, BT Legal, Rocket Lawyer, Co-op or any of the 450+ companies that applied to be an ABS in the last 12 months? Or will we be telling partners in law firms, you didn't listen to us?

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the ‘Go-To-Expert’. She is the author of the award-winning book, ‘The FT Guide To Business Networking’ and the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’. Over the past decade she has worked with over 300 partners, coached and trained over 1000 professionals from UK and international mid-tier and UK based professional practices. Heather regularly blogs at Partnership Potential, How to make partner and Joined Up Networking.

Monday 18 February 2013

Lawyers: How To Write Clearly

Of course, for lawyers, language is everything – writing clauses, interpreting phrases, arguing over construction and meaning; it's all part of the day job, right?

So why do I (Victoria) so often see boring law blogs or blawgs? Maybe I'm not the target audience, but having been a practising solicitor, I'm pretty certain I have the mental capacity to choose between an intellectually stimulating blog, with challenging or complicated legal concepts, and one which is frankly; RUBBISH. The point I'm making is that you can't fob me off with the old 'I'm writing it for other lawyers' excuse sometimes given for yawn-worthy content.

Much will depend on the audience you're writing for. Hang on – you have thought about your audience, haven't you? Or are you just writing, writing, writing without a second thought? If so; how are you getting along with the old reader numbers?

It's easy to sit down and 'bash out' a case report, client update letter or particulars of claim. What may need a little more consideration is your personal, or indeed firm's blog. If you are trying to attract a loyal audience, you should think about the following:

Why are you writing? Is it a hobby, to increase your knowledge and understanding of a particular area of law, or are you striving to become that 'go to' expert?

Who is the blog aimed at? Is it clients or potential clients, is it other lawyers, is it your colleagues?

What is the blog about? Is it strictly case law, criticism of LASPO, your journey to obtain a training contract?

A blog featured on a specialist employment law firm's website, written with the aim of attracting corporate clients, will (should) be very different to a blog discussing one man or woman's personal crusade to find a job.

So next time you sit down to scribble, have a think about what you are trying to achieve.

By Victoria Moffatt

Monday 11 February 2013

How Do I Write A Press Release? A Lawyer's Guide...

Well hopefully this week's blog will provide a handy check list for those of you wanting to write and issue your own press release.

A word of warning, a disclaimer if you will – we here at LexRex are not suggesting you should write or issue your own press release. At the end of the day, we're the pro's and we're blummin' good at our jobs. But, if you insist, these are our handy tips:

  1. Get your title right. It must be interesting but to the point. Avoid using clich├ęd terms.
  2. Get your facts right – there is nothing more embarrassing than grovelling to a busy journalist, begging them to change a spelling or add an extra decimal point. You'll likely annoy the journalist and look a bit daft in the process.
  3. Get your layout right – use a simple font, Arial will do. Apply a decent sized text, 12 is fine; and use 1.5 line spacing. It's just what journalists expect to see.
  4. A picture says a thousand words – it's true, a nice image usually goes far. If you are going to send an accompanying pic, have it professionally taken. For the sake of £100 quid or thereabouts, it's worth it.
  5. Don't waffle – keep it to the point, 300 – 500 words is fine.
  6. Write a quote – and make sure it's interesting and relevant.
  7. Include contact details – if the journalist wants more information (generally acknowledged as a good thing), make it easy for them.

Have we missed anything?

By Victoria Moffatt

Monday 4 February 2013

Why Lawyers Need To Raise Their Profiles

"I don't want to blow my own trumpet..?!"

Well we say - more fool you - and we're very serious! Apologies if this comes across as a bit blunt, but if you don't blow your trumpet, it will simply wait silently in the corner, forgotten about.

The time has now gone for lawyers to sit back and wait for the work to come in. But wait, you know that – it's the reason you network isn't it? Our view is that networking alone, as powerful as it is, just isn't enough. Your networking activities need to be supported by your reputation and brand.

After a networking event, most people sift through the cards they have been given and make a number of decisions. These are usually along the following lines:

Did I like this person?

If yes, is it likely that we can help each other out in the future (or more commonly – can they help me out?)

If the answer is 'yes' to both of the above, the next move is usually to look that person up on LinkedIn, perhaps also on Twitter, and Google their business.

Consider this; if somebody liked you and thought there may be value in following up after that initial meeting, what would they think if there was no trace of you or your company on Google, LinkedIn or Twitter? Or what about if they tracked you down on LinkedIn - what would they think of your slightly crappy profile, complete with blurry photograph. How about if they found your dusty website, last updated 12 months ago and still showing contact details for long-retired partners.

Well - we wouldn't be impressed. We would probably think:

This person isn't serious about their business - will it still exist in 6 months' time?

How will we keep in touch if they don't use LinkedIn?

How can I find out more about their business when their website is so out-of-date?

Are they actually doing any business at the moment?

Are they struggling financially?

Now we're not suggesting you need to spend all your time shouting from the rooftops about how great your business is (although we do think it makes good sense to spend some time doing that) - we're simply saying get the basics right.

Ensure you have a good professional photograph on your LinkedIn page. Make sure your profile is correct, up to date and interesting. Try to make the person you are describing on your profile actually sound like you. Don't be afraid to include a little personal information (not your birthday).

Keep your website fresh; when people move on - take down their profiles, when you have news - announce it. Think about writing a blog or creating regular newsletters.

For more tips on Legal PR, tune in next Monday. Before then, we would love to hear what you think. Do you agree with what we say, or do you have different views. All thoughts welcomed.

By Victoria Moffatt