Nowadays, when high street businesses like Spec Savers offer a choice of designer frames for prescription glasses, it’s easy to forget what the opticians market looked like before it was deregulated. In those days there was little choice, and opticians dispensed NHS prescription glasses.
The legal Big Bang augured by Clementi’s Legal Services Act 2007 is nowadays preoccupying many law firms who are wondering what the market for legal services will look like come the end of 2011. That is when the main changes are expected to come into effect.
These will allow law firms and other businesses to apply for a licence to operate as “alternative business structures” (ABSs).
This will mark the beginning of a significant transformation in the way legal services are provided to consumers. While traditionally the provision of legal services has been an activity reserved to qualified practitioners, the ABS will permit non lawyers to have an equity stake in law firms, and may even lead to the flotation of some law firms on the stock market.
The ABS is also designed to foster more innovative ways of meeting consumer demand for legal services. The thinking is that such deregulation will allow more efficient and cost effective services for consumers.
It is widely believed that high street law firm doing conveyancing, probate and wills, and similar work is going to be the first to suffer from these changes. However, no law firm will be immune.
It is difficult to see how the introduction of multidisciplinary practices (MDPs), able to provide businesses with a comprehensive range of services incorporating guidance on legal issues alongside commercial solutions, is NOT going to lead to a significant change for all types of law firm. The very increase in choice and competition in the market for consumers, is bound to have an effect on every type of law firm.
Azrights is considering its position, and how to respond. Currently, we are exploring the possibility of combining forces with graphic designers and web developers and internet marketers in order to provide a one stop shop to start ups requiring websites, identity creation, and assistance with names – company, domain and trade mark names. They also need to understand the many areas of law that we handle, such as copyrights, designs, patents, as well as commissioning websites.
We are also focused on delivering innovative cost effective solutions. One way we are doing this is in introducing more multimedia into the way we deliver our legal services. For example, during trade mark registration, we often find that despite explaining legal principles in simple plain English letters, some of our trade mark clients either do not read the letters closely enough, or for some other reason do not grasp key issues about the law and procedure.
When time is money, the need to re-explain points to lots of different people, becomes expensive. But on the other hand, clients who purchase a fixed price trade mark registration service might take a dim view if we were to try charging them for extra time just to have something explained to them so they can provide further instructions, such as about how many classes they will proceed with.
So, for us, it was a logical step to deliver some of our explanations by video and podcast. This works for us because it takes far less time to produce one podcast or video than to explain something ten times over. As people differ, it stands to reason that some will be more receptive to receiving information through the spoken word rather than through written content. So, a fairly easy change in fact revolutionises legal services, because it reduces the need for one to one consultancy time, while delivering more value to the client.
I would love to hear what others think about the changes being brought in by the Legal Services Act and our response to it as touched on here.