Five insights from developing a privately funded family law practice

Posted on: September 19, 2012

Since 2009, I have been delivering this popular CLT training workshop to family lawyers around the country and each time the dominant issues change to reflect the continuing developments in the market. Last week I worked with a group in London and earlier this week in Manchester, so I thought I’d update you on some of the key themes that emerged to developing a privately funded family law practice.

1.     Link segmentation and pricing – Not surprisingly, there was much debate about the “race to the bottom” with commodity pricing (particularly downloadable DIY legal documents as low as £20) and fixed price deals. A number of issues were discussed including the need to differentiate a service if a higher price was to be justified, the difference between the cost of producing legal documents and the value perceived by the client (mainly from face to face communication), the need to interrogate historical time records to understand the typical time invested in various types of transaction, the need for greater transparency in fee structures and billing and the use of document automation to reduce the time to do legal work. But the most important insight was that the market needs to be segmented and different value propositions (and services, pricing structures and pricing levels) could be applied to suit their differing needs, perceived benefits and ability to pay.

2.     Be creative to meet the needs of the former Legal Aid market – A linked insight related to how we can help those who can no longer obtain Legal Aid but had very little money to pay legal fees. Whilst some firms donated time to charities and social enterprises and others offered their own limited “free surgeries”, this was not suitable for those firms which desperately need to generate income to replace lost Legal Aid work. Documentation for soft loans, third party and micro loans, subscription videos, Skype meetings, premium telephone lines, group sessions, PDSA like “suggested contributions”, legal expenses insurance, legal gift vouchers, employer support and other ideas were explored. When we looked at detail – using market mapping techniques – at a very low income inner City area we were able to identify potential pockets of clients with sufficient funds to pay something, which supported the earlier findings on the importance of segmentation.

3.     Conduct more and better analysis – It always comes as a shock when I see how many firms try to build their family practices in the absence of good internal and external information. We looked at the range of analyses needed for the practice (e.g. sources of work, breakdown of volume and value of cases in different areas, comparisons of conversion rates amongst fee-earners in the same team, web site traffic using Google Analytics etc) as well as sources of (free) information about external markets and simple research tools and analysis frameworks. Strategies that are not built on solid information foundations are unlikely to succeed.

4.     Break down objectives into manageable parts – Large fee targets (e.g. £500,000) can instil fear and inaction. So break them down into more manageable chunks – perhaps using a pipeline or sales funnel method. For example, consider how many high value cases and how many medium or low value cases are required. Also, consider the number of cases currently referred from external and internal sources. Calculate how many new referral sources are required. Then work back to see how many meetings are required, and how many enquiries or web visits to achieve that level. Take into account the lead time to generate the work and then complete it, bill it and recover the money to ensure appropriate time scales are adopted. There was also some discussion about the impact of improving the conversion rate from enquiries on the final fees and profits.

5.     Infiltrate your target community in phases – Whilst some people advocate face-to-face networking, others support social media approaches and yet others strive for media exposure, we considered a more integrated approach to getting under the skin of a target community and considered a phased approach – watching and learning, raising profile, attending and connecting and then adding value and contributing. With this approach there is a role for a variety of members of the team and also for different channels and activities to be used in an integrated way.

Further details of the CLT are available at http://www.clt.co.uk/Inhousecoursedisplay/1690354/3000

 

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