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 QualitySolicitors.com, Contact Law (who are “badging” their service via the Daily Telegraph) and TakeLegalAdvice.com 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.