by Helen Hammond*

Working with law firms on both sides of the Atlantic has its challenges and bonuses… in particular the need for regular trips to Boston, MA (for the avoidance of doubt for those in Lincolnshire). Having found the best, flexible co-working space out there (if you haven’t visited WorkBar, you really should…) I settled down in my haven of innovation and creativity… surrounded by cool meeja and boffin types… a long way from the sparkly-glass-firms, suits and elevators of the Financial District. Imagine, therefore, my surprise to overhear someone talking about interviewing junior lawyers. What?! A law firm in a red brick and stainless steel basement?

With IDC predicting a 4% growth in professional services IT spend, and over 70% of firms stating that innovation in technology/service delivery will create competitive advantage, it stands to reason that more firms than ever are thinking about their online approach. But when the same research, provided by Deloitte, also states that 76% of firms consider client service to be their number 1 priority for the coming year, a disconnect starts to show. Why do firms think that ‘investment in online BD’ means a new website? And why, when they do this, are they still peddling the same old brochure approach, punctuated with promises to be the ‘law firm of choice’, to provide ‘advice tailored to your business’ and delivered by the same three suit-wearing fellas as the other navy-blue-verdana-using firm down the road?

My recent trip to Workbar got me thinking about two firms that are taking a different approach to communicating client value, online. The first is New Leaf Legal, the firm I discovered at Workbar. At first glance, a simple, pretty uncomplicated website and offering. It feels personal, homegrown and approachable… there are even photos of people smiling on there! But let’s dig deeper. Five things they’re nailing:

1.    Right up front, they state that their target clients are entrepreneurs. And then they say that they too, are entrepreneurs… really? Lawyers? Straight off the bat we have an empathy and understanding with the client. The language they use is bang on and the inclusion of things on their website like ‘fun facts’, a really great blog and a logical ‘get started’ form just works. It’s uncomplicated and targeted… and it probably didn’t cost a fortune either!

2.    They don’t complicate things with promises that look fancy. They go on to explain their approach, their simple billing model and philosophy They just write sensible copy and stick it up there… no gimmicks… just honest copywriting.

3.    Because they understand start-up business (because they’re in one and work alongside them every day – that’s why they’re at Workbar, so they’re there WITH their clients) they include lots of relevant resources (not just legal guff)… including, shock horror, recommendations of other law firms!

4.    They understand that being an entrepreneur is all about feeding off ideas and sharing… and so they aren’t afraid to share client names and experiences

5.    They talk to their clients where they want to talk, in their own languages… their Twitter and Facebook read more like a cool fashion brand than a bunch of lawyers and are actually getting people interacting… that illusive community!

But, ok, this approach isn’t right for everyone. Perhaps it’s easy to be cool and approachable in this industry… much harder when you’ve been kicking about on a Bristol high-street for 120-odd years…

Another firm doing interesting things online is Wards Solicitors  A familiar face across the South West region, the firm has nine offices and a whole raft of fee-earners across a full suite of services. Five things they’re nailing:

1.    Rather like the guys above, it’s the plain English writing style that jumps out… they’re targeting you and me… normal people that want Wills or divorces, to move house or to set up a company. So, they’re talking to them in a clear, honest way. Every part of their website is split up into short, bite-sized questions and answers supported by a bright, open navigation.

2.    They’ve partnered with the Law Donut provide a lot of the background information people search for online. But they don’t just do that… they also have a busy, topical blog is populated by opinion pieces and firm news. By buying in the standard content, their fee-earners are freed up to really share their expertise and opinions.

3.    Each fee-earner profile a short interview, professional information, personal social media links, contact details, a link to their personal blog articles, and a personal call back request… learning something from the faceless bank ‘managers’ here, about clients wanting a one-to-one relationship.

4.    Their big focus for the coming months is improving their online services section… but with a twist. They don’t want to do away with face-to-face (or phone) contact. Their online Wills, PI, Debt Recovery and Conveyancing services will offer two options: arrange a call back or ‘fill in a form to give us the full facts and we’ll call you back to discuss and progress’. You see, to them, having a role on the high-street and keeping in touch is important, so they have decided to use their website to help this, not replace the personal touch. It’s all about offering consumer choice.

5.    Social media, for them, might not be a means to securing new work but they recognise that it helps to build trust and loyalty, as well as drive website traffic… so they keep simple profiles populated, across the major platforms.

The common thread in all of this is that both firms consider client service to be their highest priority and use their online presence to demonstrate it… for both it’s a case of SHOW not TELL.  They don’t need to talk about being the law firm of choice because they, for their target markets, quite simple are. They include small, subtle things on their website that make life easier for their consumers, that answer the questions they have (and perhaps don’t even know they have) and above all… they make it really easy for people to get in touch, connect and build relationships. Now that, is how firms should be spending their IT budget…

* Helen Hammond is Managing Consultant at Elephant Creative.  After 10 years working in law firms and chambers in the UK she set up Elephant Creative to take a different approach to legal marketing. Working with firms in the UK and US, Helen specialises in delivering common-sense, practical advice, focused on clear business development objectives. Elephant Creative is a full-service, virtual agency, drawing together niche experts in their fields and creating truly specialist client teams.