The changing legal landscape invites a different approach to law practice.
We have all heard the legal industry is changing. Lawyers compete for clients, experiencing how access and affordability are two barriers that seem to be pervasive. Whether a lawyer is relatively new to the profession, or has been practicing for many years, the thoughts of how to maintain and grow a successful practice is or should be on the mind.
So how can small firms grow today? The old tested methods of networking, advertising, and referrals certainly would still hold true, but in today’s world, it seems more is needed. Clients tend to want easy access to their attorney, coupled with reasonable fees, and a sense of consistency or branding. While this may sound obvious in theory, in practice, as a general statement, it doesn’t work so well.
While office building set ups may be comfortable for lawyers, anecdotally clients share that riding up an elevator, waiting in a reception room or conference room, and then finally meeting with a lawyer in that setting can often be “overwhelming” or “intimidating.” Traditional law practice set up lent itself to such an environment, but as society has changed, it appears a sizeable number of consumers and small businesses prefer being able to pull into a one level parking lot, walk into a retail setting that is still professional, and have access to an attorney – even if to just to briefly meet to set up an appointment.
Many firms offer options of flat fees, hourly fees, and hybrids, but few, if any, publish some or all of them on their websites. Clients have perceptions of fees being exorbitant, sometimes rightfully so, which is why transparency up front, with full disclosures as to how a fee can increase or change form (flat to hourly) builds credibility, and may increase the likelihood of a client choosing you.
Consistency or a Brand
Today, society loves brands, probably more than ever. Of course, one firm in and of itself can create a brand, having various locations can serve to enhance a brand and peoples’ desire to frequent it.
While anyone can arguably make a cup of coffee, we have Starbucks. While anyone can arguably make a sandwich, we have Subway. And while anyone that is trained on tax preparation, can prepare taxes, we have H&R Block. Law firms can benefit from consistency, not necessarily in the practice of law itself, as every case is technically unique, but in the business of law. Having an expectation that a common name, a certain look and design of the firm, and defined levels of client service, can give clients a sense that there’s credibility, and that it’s a brand that they want to employ.
In general, it seems people have a sense of security or an expectation with a brand-and yes, even service brands. We know that you can not control the services of a dentist, a hairstylist, or an accountant/tax preparer, but the business framework within which they operate can be. As described above, the consistency that can come from branding can be very important to gain business and have it repeat.
Example of a Solution Encompassing Access, Affordability and Branding
An example of one answer to the challenge of access, sharing reasonable fees, and affordability is providing consistency through branding as part of a law firm franchise system.
Legal Value Firm®, a Torrance, California based law firm has done just that. Now in its fifth year, Legal Value Firm is a full-service law firm of attorneys, offering a wide range of practice areas, for mostly flat fees, in professional space in a shopping center. This paradigm has offered clients a whole new alternative: easy access and affordable legal services in a branded, neighborhood Legal Value Firm. Currently, Legal Value Firms are being offered in Arizona, with other states pending (legalvaluefranchise.com).
Founding attorney Joe Donnini states, “Law practice is definitely changing, and the timing is perfect to redefine access and delivery of legal services. With our new shopping center concept, we have positioned our brand to be a solution of the future for many consumers/small businesses and attorneys, too.”
How Does Franchising Work?
As a way to grow a law firm, franchising will offer education, training and support on client development, marketing, operations and overall business management. Attorney franchisees will be able to use their independent judgment in their practice of law, and still be in business for themselves but not by themselves.
Prospective licensed attorney franchisees may be relatively newly licensed attorneys, seasoned attorneys that want to convert their practice or operate it in addition to Legal Value Firm, or larger firms that want to capture more market share (analogous to hotels that have various brands under their portfolio).
Franchising is not the answer for every attorney, but certainly can be for many. In Legal Value Firm’s experience, some of the challenges described in this piece that lawyers face have been minimized or overcome. For example, there are numerous occasions where clients will sign up for an engagement simply because they frequent the shopping center-or it does happen where people engage the firm on the spot for a pressing matter. Capturing more market share is something that can be harder in a traditional setting with a traditional practice operation.
So while change can be inevitable, choices are increasing for small law firms to grow their business. Franchising is one choice that is poised to evolve as the future does. For more information about franchising click here: Legal Value Firm.
This is a guest post from attorney Joe Donnini. Joe is an experienced attorney, entrepreneur, educator, and business consultant. Having a diverse background has positioned Joe to gain perspective in multiple industries on many matters. Joe has assisted clients in key areas of business creation, development, operations, and finance.