Product vs Service

11 09 2009

Completing Tesco Law week here on Jobsworth, I  thought I would comment on a very interesting post that I read on the “DirectLawUK” blog a couple fo days ago.  The central point of the piece was that solicitors have to recognise the difference between a “product” and a “service”.  On this thesis, clients want a product whereas solicitors provide a service.  With appropriate use of technology solicitors can work more  efficiently and thus provide a cheaper service and the firm that can do both will be successful.  I think this is too simplistic.

The problem is that the cost of the service is open-ended, whereas a cost of a product is fixed and what clients want is certainty over how much they are going to pay.  It is a dichotomy that goes right to the heart of the relationship between solicitors and their clients and is at the heart of the debate over Tesco law. 

In terms of commoditised products (such as wills and conveyancing) solicitors are providing a product and that is why so many practitioners are concerned at being wiped out by the introduction of ABSs.  The only way that the High Street firms can compete is on quality, especially where the client’s requirements are non-standard (i.e. with high value estates or non-registered property).  Where the analysis becomes very challenging though is in respect of litigation where it is very difficult to give a fixed price estimate at the outset of the matter.  Can a piece of litigation be defined as a “product”?  With the exception of low-value RTA work and, maybe, some employment law cases, litigation can’t really be commoditised. Each case rests on its own facts and the best way to pursue it is with people who know what they are doing.  Human beings cost money, especially if they are experienced.

Can Tesco law change that? Potentially by outsourcing the fee-earners to South Africa or India, but is it feasible to have your County Court divorce handled by someone based in Cape Town or Mumbai?  What might alter the terms of the debate is if Lord Justice Jackson’s Report on Civil Litigation costs recommends an end to the cost-shifting rule whereby the winner gets his/her costs paid by the losing party.  At the moment the only reason I can see Tesco law wanting to get involved in litigious work is if they can do it more cheaply using economies of scale and make a greater profit on the amount recoverable from the loser.  If the paying party becomes the client in all cases will that business model be quite so attractive?

I’ll be writing further pieces on Tesco Law over the coming weeks, so please do link to the blog or opt into the RSS feed for updates.  Next week I’ll be back on employment law.



Can social media save solicitors?

10 09 2009

In my last post on this topic I argued that the introduction of Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) does not have to entail the destruction of the smaller firms in the legal profession, although it undoubtedly poses a very severe challenge. 

High Street firms without a recognised “brand” of their own haven’t got the financial resources to compete with the massive advertising budgets of the banks and supermarkets.  Firms or, more particularly, individual solicitors themselves, have only their own skills and personality to sell.  Word of mouth recommendation is well recognised as the best form of business development and that will never change.  What will change is that social media will allow firms and individuals to promote themselves beyond the confines of the spoken word of mouth networks.  In particular it is likely that websites will develop which will allow users to rate their solicitor; think TripAdvisor, but for lawyers.  It must only be a matter of time before such a site develops.

Alternatively networks will (and are) appear which act as umbrellas for “quality-checked” firms – we’re seeing that with, Contact Law (who are “badging” their service via the Daily Telegraph) and to name three.

It will then be very important for lawyers to control their online identities and to promote themselves in the virtual world.  We all know how “googling” has become a verb and not just a proper noun.  This trend will continue as the general population becomes more tech-savvy.  All practitioners will require a digital media strategy (Tesco law will have one).  Anyone reading this blog probably has a pretty good idea of web 2.0 and social media but, for the sake of completeness, this is what I think a digital media strategy is;

  1.  A good website, properly designed, utilising SEO techniques.
  2. A blog – probably a personal rather than a corporate one displaying wisdom and personality (like this one really!)
  3. Use of Facebook et al.  Facebook has “Pages” that allow businesses to promote themselves.  It also has about 245 million users worldwide.  Facebook has overtaken MySpace in importance.
  4. Twitter!  Play with it for a while and you will see its uses.
  5.  Linked-In et al – of most use to recruitment consultants at the moment but that will change.

None of this will replace good old-fashioned networking in the real world or will surpass the joys of an old-fashioned lengthy lunch (some of us still do it and I’m always open to invitations) but it will complement it. 

As usual, all comments welcome.

Extra-Mile Charity Loire Cycle Challenge 2009

8 09 2009

My friend Richard Gordon is taking part in the above cycle challenge later this month to raise funds for St Francis Childrens’ Society in Milton Keynes, as well as the RNLI, Prostate Cancer Charity and a local charoty called MK Snap for people with special needs.

They have committed to cycling (in relay) 500 miles through and around the Loire.  Donations can be made via this address

Good luck guys!

Free Employment Law Resource

24 08 2009

I am delighted to announce that I will be writing the Employment Law resource on Insite Law, the online legal resource page run by Charon QC.  It is designed to be an online textbook, with hyperlinks to cases and to be capable of being updated regularly so that it remains current.

It is part of his initiative  to get more legal materials online, for free.  It is anticipated that the resource will be of most use to students, but it could also be helpful for practitioners in other disciplines who just want a quick introduction.  I have volunteered to cover employment law and am just in the process of getting started. It’s a daunting prospect at this stage as there is a lot to cover but, when finished, I hope it will be useful to readers and also complement the issues raised in this blog.  It will be published in instalments, which is just as well as I don’t fancy writing 300 pages by the end of the month.

Click here for a link to Charon QC’s announcement and for more on the project as a whole.  Charon QC has covered the law of contract and the law on Sale of Goods.  He is also writing on Tort.  Other contributors, like  Peter Groves of the Ipso Jure blog writing on Intellectual Property, have also come on board.  Hopefully most areas of law will be covered in the fullness of time.

What are Lawyers really like?

24 08 2009

Now, if this doesn’t provoke a whole heap of comments, no doubt mainly derogatory, nothing will.  This being the silly season it seems like an ideal time to ask the question.  And I’m not going to tell you the answer. Instead I suggest you read Tim Kevan’s new book “Baby Barista and the Art of War”, just published by Bloomsbury and which is based on his blog in The Times.  Tim is also a barrister, albeit he is currently taking a break from practising in favour of surfing in Devon and walking his dog.   

It’s a thoroughly amusing read and should be required reading for anyone contemplating a career at the Bar (or as a solicitor, we don’t come out too well either).  It’s the story of a “Pupil” (newly-qualified) barrister training in Chambers trying to outwit and outmanoeuvre the three other pupils in the hunt for the holy grail at the Bar; a tenancy in Chambers.  The characters are all vividly drawn and credible; the situations the characters find themselves in all give a real flavour of litigation from the side of the practitioner.    There’s plenty to amuse both lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

It’s not just a comedy though.  He also touches on big issues such as the independence of the Bar which will become much more of a live issue now that solicitors and barristers can go into partnership together since the introduction of Legal Disciplinary Partnerships last April.  For instance,

“For all their supposed independence, most barristers seem to live in a state of complete paranoia and spend so much time kowtowing to solicitors that their independence is worth even less than their pride”

You’ll also read the best explanation of why you shouldn’t sign up for a no win no fee agreement to fund your case, but instead get legal expense insurance in advance so that the lawyers don’t start worrying about how they are going to get paid.  No win no fee agreements do create a conflict of interest between lawyer and client and the question of how they (we) get paid becomes “a big fat ugly screaming beast jumping up and down on their head”.  Too true.

It’s a good holiday read – list price is £11.99, but considerably cheaper from Amazon.

Jobsworth is One

18 08 2009

One what you might ask?  To avoid potentially unpublishable suggestions, let me just clarify that Jobsworth – the employment law blog is one year old today.  It is, incredibly, one whole calendar year since I started this blog, which arose out of a newspaper column I was then writing.  95 posts later I’m still enjoying writing it but, more importantly, I hope you enjoy reading it.  To all of my regular readers may I say thank you for your support and kind comments? Some of you have even been kind enough to instruct me at Dale Langley & Co, where I do my day job.    I’ve had some very positive feedback on what I’ve written, which has been helpful.  If there are any topics you would like to see covered please let me know.

My posts on the alternatives to redundancy, such as pay cuts and working for free, have been the most popular to date.  I’ve spent most time writing on redundancy (not surprising given the times we live in) and not a great deal on unfair dismissal.  This I will be rectifying over the coming months as the blog hurtles into that awkward period between being able to crawl and before the terrible twos.  Time for a celebratory Farley’s rusk methinks.

Further advice on swine flu

28 07 2009

Personnel Today, a very useful website for HR and employment law matters has published  an article on what steps employers can take – click here to visit it.

There are also RSS feeds so you should have no reaosn not to be fully up-to-date!