Following on from our recent story about Thomson Reuters launching its FindLaw services in the UK, LexisNexis UK has now staked its claim in the same market and has sent us a statement about what it describes as The LawyerLocator versus 'The Others' scenario. In addition to the statement, we also fired off some questions to Robert Farquharson, who is the director and official spokesman for the LexisNexis LawyerLocator and ClientBuilder division in the UK…
 
Statement: LexisNexis LawyerLocator has over 11,000 law firms listed on the site, this offers consumers and small business owners the ability to search the second largest list of solicitors after the Law Society of England & Wales. LexisNexis LawyerLocator allows consumers to match the most appropriate solicitor to their specific legal issue by offering them the ability to tailor their searches by using any combination of the 20 filters available to them.  LexisNexis LawyerLocator emulates other mainstream consumer comparison sites that the consumers have become accustomed to by giving them complete visibility to all the firms on the website.
 
Whereas the majority of the other find-a-solicitor-type websites require the consumer to submit their case details into a basic form which is then passed onto the law firm, meaning the user has no choice over which firm they end up instructing and is not actually choosing the most suitable firm to service their legal issue. A key differentiator between LexisNexis LawyerLocator and the other sites is that it is free for firms to be listed on therefore there is no barrier for entry and no cost to be eligible to receive leads from consumers and small business owners.
 
LexisNexis LawyerLocator also offers consumers and small business owner’s access to hundreds of authorative articles and forums explaining legal issues in plain English. In addition, the site allows users to do a legal health check – by completing no more than four questions LexisNexis LawyerLocator is able to advise a user if they have a legal issue that requires expert advice and if so will automatically suggest firms that are based locally.  Naturally if the consumer does not have a legal issue that requires a solicitor the health check with offer them an informal checklist, key points to be aware of and useful third party links to other free legal advice websites as a takeaway document.
 
LexisNexis LawyerLocator currently has in excess of 45,000 unique visitors per month all of whom in one form or another have a legal issue. Users of the site are able to review, understand and identify the right solicitor for their legal issue and ultimately instruct the solicitor that best matches their needs using the Ask a Solicitor functionality.
 
The Ask a Solicitor function acts as lead generation channel for the law firms listed on LexisNexis LawyerLocator by prequalifying the leads as direct result of the matching process.  Once a law firm accepts a new instruction they are able to manage their new customer within the a control panel, which is an online marketing dashboard (which shows new cases, active cases, analytics on how their listing is performing, numbers of times they have appeared in search results etc).
 
The idea of the control panel is to allow all firms listed on LexisNexis LawyerLocator to manage their online presence as well as all leads generated from their listing.  Ultimately the control panel with integrate with third party tools such as LexisNexis ClientBuilder e-marketing tool, Yell.com/Thomson Local listings so that the law firms will be able to have a comprehensive understanding of how their online marketing and listings are working for them.
 
Increasingly consumers look to search engines to find providers of legal services, a law firms website is more often than not the first port of call for a consumer when searching for a trusted advisor.  LexisNexis ClientBuilder allows firm to have a fully integrated online presence offering law firms an easy to use content management system as well as social media, e-marketing functionality, SEO and lead generation tools. LexisNexis ClientBuilder is fully integrated into LexisNexis LawyerLocator, whereby a law firm can control their online reputation from one control panel with the ability to manage all new instructions within the control panel.
 
By offering firms integrated online lead generation and web management tools, LexisNexis is positioning itself as the online marketing service provider for small law and giving them the tools to compete in an ever more commoditised and process driven marketplace where consumers expect to be able to match and compare the most suitable law firm to their specific legal issue.

The Q&A

CC:  What are LexisNexis doing by way of raising the pretty-much non-existent profile and brand-awareness of LawyerLocator and ClientBuilder? And whatever happened to the Martindale-Hubbell brand the group spent the best part of a decade trying to promote in the UK?

RF:  There are two audiences for LawyerLocator and ClientBuilder law firms and consumers/SME’s From a law firm perspective there is some awareness amongst the smaller law firms as LawyerLocator, as an online version of the Butterworths and Scottish Law Directories has been around for 10 years. In terms of  LawyerLocator, in its new guise as a lead generation tool for law firms and a solicitor comparison site for consumers/SME we have only soft launched it so far and are talking to law firms as we contact them through the year to update their listing and are also introducing ClientBuilder. In terms of consumers/SMEs we have been focusing our marketing efforts on driving traffic to the site via SEO and PPC campaigns. 

We have been at some conferences aimed at the smaller law firm market such as the SPG Annual Conference but we have not been actively advertising either product. 

In respect of Martindale Hubbell, we demerged the intrinsically local (ie for customers who practice within the UK) products such as LawyerLocator from the more international/cross border focused Martindale Hubbell business in 2004.  Martindale-Hubbell is still an important and strong brand for LexisNexis with customers in around 140 countries who are part of the online and print Martindale-Hubbell directory as it generates leads from law firms around the world. In addition to this more traditional business LN has launched MHConnected, an online community for lawyers that has approximately 33, 000 members.

CC:  You talk about “the others” but how do you realistically differentiate yourself from all the other Find-a-Solicitor type websites that are out there, given that they all claim their own USPs and that the consumer audience you are targeting are probably not sophisticated enough to appreciate the differences?

RF:  That is a fair question as we all as you say believe we have a USP.  If we take the commercial websites first then one key differentiators are that it is free to be listed on LawyerLocator and that the consumers/SME can see all those listed which is different to some competitors such as Contact Law where you send your requirements to them who them select a law firm for you.  In relation to the site from the Law Society of England & Wales we have added some more information to the basic listings such as extended office opening times, lexcel accreditation and client extranets. 

We also offer access to free consumer friendly legal information that allows consumers/SME to better understand their legal issue.

CC:  Given this is practice development type project, involving lead generation and the creation of an online presence etc etc, wouldn't this be better merged in with the Interaction CRM product, particularly as one of the weaknesses of Interaction is that it has to use 3rd party e-marketing add-ons?

RF:  The type of firm who would use the LawyerLocator and ClientBuilder suite is a different type of firm to the one which would use InterAction.  InterAction is best of breed product that is used by top 500 law firms, whereas ClientBuilder (and it ‘e’marketing functionality) has been developed for the smaller law firms. 

CC:  In the announcement you say “In addition, the site allows users to do a legal health check – by completing no more than four questions LexisNexis LawyerLocator is able to advise a user if they have a legal issue that requires expert advice and if so will automatically suggest firms that are based locally.” – this is interesting as it implies you are moving beyond merely providing objective information and over into providing quasi-professional subjective advice. Is the service covered by professional indemnity cover – from the point of view of consumers if they use the service and find themselves with an unsatisfactory solicitor?

RF:  The legal health check is designed to provide some advice to consumers/SME that can either provide useful information when they see their solicitor or give them some other avenues to get legal advice such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or legal documents available online. We are therefore aiming to give consumers an easy way to understand what their legal issue may or may not be rather than offering legal advice. The take away print out details suggested guidelines, next steps, pitfalls and useful links, where the legal health check suggests the consumer needs to instruct a lawyer all the health check has actually done is prequalified the lead for the law firm or firms who are instructed. 

We do not stand behind the advice that law firms give to clients as we are not holding ourselves out as giving legal advice and the law firm on LawyerLocator will have their own professional indemnity insurance,

CC:  I feel there is confusion here over the ultimate audience for these products? Are you offering law firms a set of tools to help them be more effective in their marketing activities? Are you offering them an online yellow pages type ad presence – that they hope will generate more leads. Are you offering the public a better way to locate suitable legal advice? And/or is it a combination of all three?

RF:  As I mentioned above we have two audiences; law firms and consumers/SME. The front end of LawyerLocator is designed 100% for the consumer/SME market, we have tried to remove the legalese and the aim of the site is to make understanding, finding and instructing a solicitor as easy as possible for the public.

The back end of LawyerLocator and ClientBuilder has been specifically designed to allow small law firms who more often than not do not have dedicated marketing teams and who are “resource & time poor” to dynamically manage and control their own website through ClientBuilder, whilst at the same time offer them a lead referral product via LawyerLocator.

CC:  Given the dramatic changes of strategy & organisational structure we have seen in parts of LexisNexis in recent years (I'm thinking of the IT operations which has had more changes of strategy than sales) what is LexisNexis long term commitment to LawyerLocator and ClientBuilder?

RF:  By virtue of LawyerLocator brand being over a decade old and a key product for LN you can expect to see us continuing to invest and develop the both for a long time.  The changes in the legal landscape and the switches in consumer buying habits have positioned LawyerLocator and ClientBuilder in a very strong position of service both of our key audiences – consumers and small law firms alike.

If I were a futurologist I would be telling you to expect to see these products being developed and offering some or all of the following:
• Having legal documents for sale on LawyerLocator as flat word documents or ones that can be completed dynamically
• Integration and marketing performance analytics of third party online marketing channels such as yell.com/Thomson Local
• Social media bolt ons
• Allowing law firms to sell to documents to consumers online (with or without a legal review in the price)

Thank you