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Innovation - evolution or revolution?

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The summer holidays are with us and it’s that time again when news is slow but publishing a survey creates its own noise.

The SRA and the LSB have jointly produced a survey that simply states the majority of ‘legal service providers’ feel they have leadership and culture in their firm to support innovation – but just a quarter have taken the plunge in the past three years.

The survey of 1,500 organisations, including around 900 law firms, found 80% feel they have the management structure to make innovation possible, with 40% having put in place practical steps to promote new ideas.

Solicitors’ firms were found to be more innovative than barristers’ chambers, particularly through extra use of electronic communication with clients and the use of electronic forms and case management systems.

Other key areas where providers have changed have been in working on fixed fees, new practice areas and greater use of technology.

Almost three-quarters of providers on social media use the platforms to advertise services and provide legal updates or free information, although the direct provision of legal services through social media was uncommon.

Speaking at a press briefing ahead of the report’s publication last month, LSB chief executive Richard Moriarty said the report reflected a mixed view of firms’ willingness to innovate but is this enough?

With over 500 licenced ABSs in existence we have seen investment in process and a reduction in risk but we still have that traditional feel of a profession that is strongly resisting change.

Another survey published by Google clearly demonstrates that owner managers of SME businesses are going on-line to find legal services. The Google online poll of 1,400 business people found that more than a third (35.6%) searched the web, compared to 21.8% who relied on their existing legal contacts and 21.4% who asked a friend or trusted person.

Google also polled 1,700 individual consumers using its own consumer survey tool, Duncan Watts, industry manager for Google, said that in line with other research, most individual consumers (38%) when asked where they would start if they needed a lawyer, said they would ask a friend or trusted person.

Just under a third (31%) said they would search the internet, while 19.5% would rely on other sources of information and 11.4% consult official bodies, like the Law Society.

While almost 80% of SMEs that used the internet to search for a lawyer said they would contact more than one before going any further, less than half of individual consumers (48%) said they would, compared with almost 40% who were happy to contact only one firm.

So what do these surveys really tell us?

Our clients are demanding change and we are not adapting quickly enough to meet their needs – well that’s not really a shock to a very traditional profession that is resistant to change.

I am sure the profession is fed up with being told how to manage change yet as King Canute discovered you cannot hold back the tide and neither can the profession hold back the tide of change that is slowly forcing us to alter working practices, funding models and engage with clients in a less transactional way.

We now have confidential invoice discounting (CID) available for firms who wish to grow without traditional bank funding – it’s very different to what you are used to but commonly used by growing businesses outside the sector.

We have tax specialists who provide a solution to SME clients to release monies from their businesses; why shouldn’t a lawyer introduce these services to their clients and receive a fee?

There are business growth opportunities for SMEs when a solicitor can provide monthly help and support to grow a business in an organised way. All the law firm has to do is engage regularly with their corporate clients – the spin-off legal opportunities are immense.

Working closely with professional IFA networks will generate work for a law firm and provide a specialist investment service in a joint venture for those clients with personal injury; clinical negligence, trusts and probate. It changes the transactional nature of a traditional practice and engages clients on a regular basis.

These are just a few ideas that innovators are adapting and I haven’t even touched the subject of ABS!

What these surveys demonstrate is the world of legal services will change beyond recognition and the revolution will be in innovation. Talking to one of my clients today who really understand what their clients want is so refreshing. They know because they asked them and have developed the type of services I am referring to above in order to meet their growing demands.

Do you think this firm will be successful in the future legal landscape?

Viv Williams

CEO 360 Legal Group