In the business world, the law of commerce underpins all commercial dealings. Commerce lies at the heart of a democratic society and having effective legal recourse when things don't go to plan is essential. However, the established model for facilitating this needs to change and law firms must bear the brunt.
There's currently a very real dichotomy between supply and demand. Availability, cost, and accessibility are the three key watchwords and the Legal Services Consumer Panel has taken the unprecedented step of recommending regulatory intervention after figures showed that just 17% of law firms are being transparent about their fees by displaying prices on their websites.
What needs to change?
Law firms are increasingly being seen as the last bastion of the traditional approach towards accessing expert legal information. For the main part they offer a bespoke service and the big question is if this change is required to happen over the next five years, why hasn't it already happened during the last hundred years? The simple answer is that technology has evolved so much that the traditional approaches aren't keeping up. Nowadays, copious amounts of information are available online at the touch of a keypad and, in times of trouble, legal consumers are increasingly shying away from their first port of call being a lawyer. They want to save money and the rise in numbers of litigants in person in the civil courts is testament to this.
These hidden consumers are out there on the internet in their droves and it is on this market that the new-era legal services firms must focus their attention.
Reactive consulting is no longer the way forward for law firms. Only by proactively interacting with legal services end users, can experts be successfully involved in the new-style demand for legal advice and assistance.
What is causing this seismic shift?
In a sense, the huge changes that are needed are almost entirely outside of the control of the legal sector. The print-based age has moved astonishingly quickly into a new, digital era. Everything is available to some extent online and there is massive competition in all of the key industries. There's a large, latent demand for legal services – people are looking to access the initial relevant information quickly, cleanly and at no, or low, cost.
How can commercial lawyers benefit from these changes?
Collaborative online resources are pioneering legal tech tools of their time. They gain strength by being able to address the legal issues of their consumers far more rapidly than in the past. The traditional approach has been streamlined and costs have been reduced through delegation, along with the digital benefits.
The USP for commercial lawyers in this new digital era is that there is always going to be a gap between consumers gaining the academic knowledge regarding their legal situation and having the practical skills to be able to apply it. This is where a savvy approach can rapidly overtake in a competitive market. The whole basis of legal work revolves around the practical application of knowledge and thus, it is essential for commercial lawyers to establish a very strong online presence.
Each second, the Google search engine processes more than 40,000 search enquiries which roughly translates to 3.5 billion per day and to "Google" is a verb which has well and truly entered our lexicon for the new age. These days, if we don't know the answer to a question, be it "how tall is the Shard?" to "what is Alternative Dispute Resolution?" most of us now turn to a digital device to find an almost immediate answer . The legal services consumers are out there, ready to find the information that tech savvy lawyers can give them.
But there is something else at work in this sphere. With the Legal Services Consumer Panel finding that just 17% of law firms are publishing the prices they charge online, it's easy to see how this creates an unnaturally small selection for the average legal services consumer on a budget. Whilst fixed prices are generally outside the remit of the legal sector, an average price is something which the powers that be are chasing - with the end goal being access to a full, flexible contingent of lawyers for all legal services consumers.
In addition, the Competition and Markets Authority has highlighted a lack of transparency over service and price as the main stumbling block in legal service competition for SMEs. In a report, it says that access to service quality data should be improved, thereby enabling consumers to make an informed choice. Plus, consumer feedback and complaints data should be made available. If these emerging protocols are followed, a successful new age for commercial lawyers could be upon us. It's too early as yet to predict successes – but proceeding with a cautious optimism is not out of the question.
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