Preparing for ABS – should firms go local or national?

 In Practice Management

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ABS and branding

As the introduction of ABS fast approaches, Title Research addresses the key question of whether to promote your brand locally or nationally.

Introduction

For those firms that have decided they need to do something to meet head on the challenges of the alternative business structures (ABSs), one part of the decision is whether to go local or national. Do you subsume your long-established and cherished name into a national brand, with high-profile advertising and X-Factor contestants warbling away at your official reopening, or do you go the other way, and try and explain to those walking past your door that you are indeed long-established and cherished.

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Solicitors have a brand in that, if people identify that they have a legal problem, they know they need to go to a solicitor. But when it comes to choosing a lawyer, the strength of a law firm’s local brand will be a key determining factor in whether they win or lose instructions.

One new network, GetSolicitors, is focusing on building up firms as local brands and is urging lawyers to participate more in their local business communities – become secretary of the local chamber of commerce, for example.

Despite the prevalence of supermarkets and the like, local businesses still thrive. They are rooted in their community, offer fantastic service and excellent products, innovate by constantly coming up with new products, and win awards. It is generally acknowledged that consumers will pay more for what they perceive as higher quality.

Quality issues

That opens up another issue currently preoccupying the profession’s regulators – what is quality and how can it be assured? The reality is that most consumers take quality of advice as a given (and even if they don’t, they are hard pressed to know what it looks like), and are likely to differentiate between providers on the basis of quality of service.

What’s your brand?

This is why the decision to focus on branding, whether local or national (and no doubt both can work in their own ways), could be so important. Research consistently shows that recommendation remains the most popular way to find solicitors, but equally a lot of people do not have a recommendation to follow. So people may well fall back on a recognisable brand – that was the conclusion of recent research by YouGov, which found little recognition of existing legal brands, while 60% of consumers said they would consider buying legal services from one of 16 listed brands (from Tesco to Kwikfit).

What the likes of QualitySolicitors are trying to do, of course, is get in there now and create a legal brand first – one that is actually both national in its recognition but local in terms of building on the name of the member firms in their areas.

Impact of ABS

The entry of ABS into the legal market could have one of three impacts. They may prove a failure (although the fact that the Co-op has built up a £24m legal business in less than five years indicates that this is unlikely); they could stimulate more demand for legal services, meaning there is enough to go round for both ABSs and traditional firms; or they could eat into the existing market, hitting the market share of traditional providers.

The latter is arguably the most likely scenario. The challenge for firms, as ever, is lifting their eyes up from fee-earning for long enough to look around and properly assess their options. Many firms have already assessed their options and decided on a course of action. Approaching this issue is far from easy, but firms that build their brand recognition and properly look to the future, will have little to fear.

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