Marketing to Private Clients (1)

 In Practice Management

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Marketing to Private Clients

Private client and probate work is not, on the face of it, easy to market. After all dying is hardly a sexy topic. Most people really don’t want to think or talk about it, least of all do it!

Finding a sensitive way to get your promotional message across can appear a bit of a challenge but over the next few months I hope my column will help practitioners to be aware of the marketing challenges facing them and provide some practical tips.

Whom are you competing against?

The market has in recent years become much more competitive with other organisations not just law firms entering the private client market and traditional areas of work offered in different ways. Furthermore over the next five years private client practitioners can expect to experience even greater threats and competition as the effects of the Legal Services Act 2007 fully begins to be felt.

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Who should you be worried about?

  • Will writers – there appear to be two bodies to which many Will writers belong – The Society of Will Writers (SWW) and the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW). SWW has just more than 2,000 members and IPW has approximately 200 full members and 200 associate members. Broadly similar the two organisations will admit almost anyone if they pay to become a member, take a one – three day course and sit an open book exam. The whole process costs just a few hundred pounds. For those who want to save some cash and skip the formality of courses and exams there is nothing to stop anyone from instantly setting up in business in competition with the traditional firm of solicitors.
  • Online Will offerings – these are essentially businesses that enable people to either produce or have their Will produced for them instantly online by filling in the appropriate details and clicking certain boxes. Many of these operations exist and rank extremely highly on internet search result listings. Practitioners will be horrified to note that some companies offer a Will in 10 minutes at a cost of fewer than £30.
  • Will writing guides – There are also many organisations out there, including leading insurance companies, who provide clients and prospective customers with guides to making Wills. While they do not directly provide a competitive service, they potentially divert people away from the traditional solicitors’ service by offering and encouraging do-it-yourself.
  • Commercial legal services operations – there are several of these businesses
  • Halifax Legal Solutions which provides free Wills for customers as part of an annual subscription service; Barclays Bank who offer an online or personal service for a similar price to high street law firms;
  • Royal Bank of Scotland and Nat West which offer a Will writing service operating via a call centre with the Wills outsourced to a large law firm who have negotiated a joint venture deal;
  • AA Legal Services offers Wills and trust services as well as advice on inheritance tax planning and also appear to outsource the work to the same large law firm;
  • Co-operative Legal Services – provides full and comprehensive Wills & private client advisory services. It seeks initially to provide legal services that link to its various business units. It is a well managed organisation with millions of customers supported by an in-house specialist legal team providing services between 8am and 8pm supported by a team of professional marketers and trainers – a force to be reckoned with; and
  • Epoq Legal Solutions which has been something of a pioneer in helping a number of large brand name organisations establish innovative legal service businesses and relationships. It helps create new ways to deliver legal services over the web – take a look at their web site

If you as a private client practitioner are concerned about the level and sophistication of the competition then you are right to be …. And it will only get tougher over the next few years.

So what, in practical terms, should you consider in light of these threats? I will explore an answer to that question over the next few months but here are 10 key points for now:

  1. Get your marketing priorities right – focus your efforts where you can make the most impact.
  2. Be open-minded – redefine and challenge who you are and how you do things with a willingness to do things differently.
  3. Don’t be a www firm – i.e. a ‘worry’, ‘whinge’ and ‘wait’ firm.
  4. Be informed and keep up to date – who in your firm is looking creatively at the marketplace?
  5. Work with others – people and organisations with different strengths joining together for mutual benefit.
  6. Enhance your IT and service capabilities – the technical quality of your work is taken for granted you need to provide modern, efficient, streamlined, technologically enhanced, client driven, well managed, cost sensible services to your clients.
  7. Consider outsourcing – to speed up work and reduce cost freeing up support staff to provide potential fee earning, business development and client service activities.
  8. Get advice – don’t struggle if you do not know how to take some of the ideas I shall mention further – seek appropriate help and advice to make it happen in your firm.
  9. Get out from behind your desk – Attend conferences, visit exhibitions, network with fellow professionals and go out of your way to meet innovators, commentators, influential people and organisations dictating the pace of change. Get to know the competition; build your contact base; get recognised; ask questions; make contributions; get involved; team up with other firms for support and be visible.
  10. Review opening hours – many successful brand names and competitors generate more clients and business simply because they are open and available when you are not.

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