How should solicitors and law firms compete with the availability of free legal information on the web? How might it impact current business models?
In the IT industry, we have been grappling with this issue for a number of years… lots and lots of free information and advice on the Web, free open source software, and many, many free websites. Observations from the IT industry are that traditional paid-for software providers are still doing very well. The radical change that we thought open source software would bring hasn’t been as radical as we originally thought, and there are still plenty of well-paid jobs for IT consultants. Free open-source alternatives now with co-exist paid-for products and to varying degrees are embraced by the likes of IBM, Sun and even Microsoft.
Lessons for the legal sector (and indeed any professional service firms)
- Get close to your clients. Understand their business and become their trusted partner. Show you provide real value. Good consulting fees will remain for people who can do this well
- Look at low value-add services that you provide. These could easily become cannibalised and commoditized by free alternatives. Consider acting first and making them free before your competitors do (the Sun Open Office approach). Alternatively look at what else you can add to make your offering unique and worth paying for (the Microsoft Office approach)
- Look how you can use free products and build on top of them to lower your product/service costs
- Think about how it is possible to create packaged product offerings that can effectively compete with free, rather than simply an hourly service
- Think how you can create and distribute free offerings yourselves to introduce people to your brand (And perhaps if a free product is one step to far right now, you could consider starting by using free tools to help in your marketing)
- Consider getting involved and contributing to free information forums in order to build your brand recognition and reputation. The idea is essentially to build credibility, trust and brand recognition so that when people do need to purchase legal services, they will think to come to you
Thanks for this Mark. Excellent post and advice. By getting close to your clients you find out what is important to them, what their problems are, what they need etc. Number one point. Also agree that low added services – and I would put standard confidentiality agreements in this category – should be made free. The problem with free, however, is that it takes time to find all you need, so there is definitely scope for law firms to package the free information to deliver something that their own client base would value (which is why you need to be communicating with them in the first place…).
Till now I've been of the view that if you provide compelling content that people really want, then it's a fair exchange to get their email address in return for that free content. However, I'm now changing my mind on that point. I think if you have fantastic content of the sort that you would normally give away in return for an email address, you are much better off to just give it away away freely, without requiring an email address. So, I suppose I agree with your view that it's more important to build your credibility, trust, and brand recognition. As for the future, I think it certaintly points towards products.
Yes, if you are the first to make something free, you get amazing opportunity for PR and press coverage. Done right you have the potential to get many more clients for your high value services than would otherwise have been the case. I will be looking out for you in the press Shireen!
Certainly http://www.trademarkdirect.co.uk/ got a lot of publicity for their free trademark search and I am delighted to give them more because I can build on that
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