Author Archives: Shireen Smith

Legally Branded- The Book Writing Process

I have finally finished writing Legally Branded, and it feels so nice to hold it in my hands at long last.

Unless you’ve written a book you would not believe how much effort goes into producing one.

There is a huge amount to learn about book publishing as I mentioned in my post on Azrights.  Early on I decided to self publish the book, and got straight down to writing it.

First there’s the sorting out the book’s structure, and content.  Next is to carve out the necessary time to write it.  I then showed my book to an experienced publisher, and she recommended working with an editor.

So, then your editor picks you up on sense and meaning, and structure, and you have to go over the chapters reworking, and clarifying the meaning for readers.

Writing is only half the battle

When you’ve finished writing the book you naturally assume that’s the end of it.  But no.  This is when you realise the writing of the book may have been the easy part.

Typesetting the book is the next hurdle.  The typesetter expects you to provide instructions as to how the internal pages of the book should look.  Will you feature illustrations?  How will you break the book up and make it look more digestible?  I was stumped.  Luckily, my copy editor came to the rescue here and took charge.

However, there was a lot more of my time involved than I had realised to further review and clarify, following her comments, and typsetting suggestions.

Each time someone does anything on the book you have to review it.  After the typesetting was complete, I had to find someone to professionally proof read the book.

I assumed this was merely the type of work a careful junior secretary might do to pick up typos, but it seems the job is a lot more involved.  The proof reader will look at the page proofs and pick up page breaks, end of line breaks, unwanted double spacings, running heads, and notice whether text is correctly justified, centred or whatever.  She is the one who ensures there’s consistency in font usage, sizes and line spacings.  Awkward widows and orphans (publishing jargon for words or short phrases left hanging alone at the beginning or end of a paragraph or column) are picked up as are spelling mistakes, and typos.  Then, once you’ve reviewed the typesetter’s implemented changes, there is the index’s work to slot in.  If page numbers in the book have changed, this is going to impact on the indexer’s page references so you have to be careful to sort these details out before releasing the final product.

Finding the time

I commenced my journey to produce this particular book back in July 2011, and have been working on it since. I left it to one side for a 2-3 month period when I realised I hated the first draft, and had no clue how to move on from there.  But eventually, if you want to write a book strongly enough, you find the answers you’re looking for.

It wasn’t easy to find time for all this. My weekends, evenings, and any time not spent working in the business of running Azrights, was spent writing, editing, redrafting and finalising the book. It definitely feels like an accomplishment to have come to the end of this marathon task.

But funnily enough now that I’ve learnt the way, I’m already planning the next book….

Why write a book?

I decided to write Legally Branded when I noticed there were no accessible books for business owners on the legal aspects of branding. I wanted to use my expertise and knowledge in the field of IP law to guide small business owners on the laws relevant to brands and online business.

I love helping people to achieve their dreams.  My guidance can make their path a lot easier.  Having founded and run Azrights for over 7 years, there’s a lot of help I can provide to a new business in terms of understanding the internet, and identifying the legal issues that are too important to ignore, or address by buying a template.

The way I regard my role of adviser to business owners is by analogy to someone who can see potholes and mines ahead, as well as bridges and the odd oasis.  I want to warn them to avoid the pitfalls and dangers, and to guide them towards the bridges and oasis.  Some choices entrepreneurs make in terms of IP law issues can help them achieve much more substantial and rapid success than others.

If only more business owners saw the point in taking IP advice, more of them might avoid the pitfalls and mistakes that regularly trip up the unwary or which reduce the impact they might otherwise have had.

I help early stage businesses to overcome legal claims, such as for infringing on the rights of others.  If they paid a fraction of these fees before they started up to avoid infringing on others’ rights they might ultimately stand a better chance of succeeding. It’s so important to get a business off to a proper start, and I hope my book will help business owners to understand why.

The final push

Work is far from over on Legally Branded. Yes the content may be there, but now comes the really time consuming bit – namely, marketing the book.  Review copies need to be sent out, the book launch needs to be organised, guests invited. The list is endless.

But that’s not to say it’s not exciting, it certainly is.  The British Library has been booked for the book launch by my firm Azrights, who are sponsoring the event.  As this press release explains, the launch will be on September 11th.  There will also be a virtual launch which can be attended by everyone from all around the world.  We are hoping to feature a live stream from the main event, if the internet connection of the venue will allow this.

I am very excited to be able to celebrate the book’s launch at long last and am pleased to have pushed myself to the end to complete the book, and it feels well worth the task.  As they say, nothing worthwhile in life comes easy.

UK Blawg Roundup #9 – Legal Services Act and Alternative Business Structures

When I initially agreed to host the 9th UK Blawg Roundup, which I’m delighted to be doing, it all seemed fairly straightforward and sufficiently in the distance to seem quite manageable timewise. I anticipated receiving a long list of blogs to review which I’d pull together in a blog post.

However, the reality has been quite different.  My book project has taken longer than initially anticipated, and it became obvious as the deadline for blog submissions approached, that none were going to be submitted!  Time was at a premium.  So, I enlisted the help of my trainee Stefano Debolini, to hunt for material to include in this Blawg review and to generally lend me a hand with this post.

Stefano sought out blogs talking about Multi-Disciplinary Practices, Alternative Business Structures, the Legal Services Act,  Tesco Law, among other subjects, and has learnt a great deal about legal business in the process.  This can only stand him in good stead for the future as it’s his generation that is going to experience the full effects of these market changes, long after us baby boomers have ceased to practice law.

At around this time I received Brian Inkster’s Christmas hat, and heard  about Michelle Hynes’s sad health news.  Michelle is a former marketer who is retraining to be a lawyer.  She is very on the ball and maintains a popular blog at legaleaglemhm.wordpress.com, where she has posted news of her tremendous ordeal and recent heart surgery.  I hope you will join me in wishing her well and a speedy recovery.  There will always be a place in the new world of legal services for people like Michelle who have had exposure to other disciplines.  They are the kind of lawyers who will be in demand in the legal industry of the future.  Lawyers able to understand technology, the internet, social media, marketing, sales, customer service, and business will thrive.

Scots

So, my attention turned to the Scots.  Scotland has its own Legal Services Act but the considerations are similar.  In his TheTimeBlawg Round up of 2011 Brian says he will write on Alternative Business Structures in 2012.  I look forward to reading this because Brian leaves no stone unturned when he focuses on a topic.  Brian  alerted me to the @HighlandLawyer blog which focuses on the law in Scotland along with coverage of ‘the use of IT, particularly but not exclusively in lawyer’s offices; or possibly even in programming; or if you are just hoping for some puns, sarcasm, or other low level intellectual humour’ – highlandlawyer.wordpress.com. IT has huge disruptive potential, as Richard Susskind has indicated, so I look forward to reading this blog for any comments on emerging technologies.

Paul McConville over in Scotland recounts parallels between the deregulation of the legal profession, and developments which led to the financial crisis in his article The Coming Bonfire – Lessons from Guy Fawkes for the Scottish Legal Profession?

While Gav Ward does not write about the Legal Services Act, he does write about Social Media.  This is a topic to watch out for if you’re trying to work out what impact the Legal Services Act might have on the legal profession.  Gav was quick to comment on the recent Law Society social media policy.  If you agree with me that social media is going to have a disruptive effect on the legal services industry (as it is already having on many other industries), then you’ll want to read Gav’s blog as it will doubtless cover developments of interest to the legal community.

2012

So here we are in the year 2012, it could be our last according to some (though not to others), but it’s definitely going to be interesting whether or not we’re here at the end of it, and if you are reading this then the subject I’ve been looking at has probably been on your mind for some time.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has now begun to accept applications for Alternative Business Structure, some 3 months later than initially planned.  Barbara Cookson over on Solo IP blog believes it’s unlikely that many sole practitioners will be transforming themselves into ABS.  While I can see a number of benefits if my own firm Azrights became an ABS (such as the possibility of entering into joint ventures with non lawyers, which is a way in which the rest of the business community grows and expands) I would certainly not want to be an early adopter.  It’s an expensive process, and unless one has a business plan that depends on having ABS status (such as if you need angel investment) I suspect it’s possible to achieve partnership like arrangements by relying on the separate business rules, rather than becoming an ABS.

Nicola Proudlock a former in house lawyer who has set up her own practice New Leaf Law says Starting up a legal services business has required me to think and behave in ways I never have done before. I’ve been reworking my business model as I plan for growth. I know that the structural and economic model has to be radically different from traditional offerings to be truly customer-led, and to build for future success. I also know how hard it is to move away from those deeply ingrained beliefs about what legal services should look like. Beliefs that first took root 20-odd years ago in private practice. At each iterative step of my strategic development, I am having to challenge myself about such long-held assumptions and what can, actually, be achieved. Instinctively, I know what has to be done – but that doesn’t make the process of getting there any easier.

I look forward to hearing more from Nicola and seeing more writing on this topic by bloggers.  In the meantime, will wait and see how  the ABS pans out and whether it attracts smaller players.  One insightful writer I will be watching closely is @bhamiltonbruce who wrote an excellent piece on referral fees recently.  Unfortunately I could not find a link to her blog but if you follow her on Twitter you will catch sight of her posts.

Such a sweeping change in the way legal services can be offered up to the public has undeniably left the gate open for misinformation and confusion.  People far and wide have been asking what does this mean for me? How can I take advantage of the changes? Where do I sign up? Google to the rescue! The web is chock full of discussion on the subject and a quick search will throw up more information than you can shake a stick at, but finding the wood among the trees is a pain.  Luckily for us, blawgers of every discipline have stepped in to lend a hand.

Bob wasn't so keen on the firm's introduction of multiple additional disciplinary practices

For those contemplating competitive conveyancing Karen Hain offers some direction over at Bottomline Online.  For accountancy practices interested in bringing a multidisciplinary flavour to their business Freiderike Heine has some good news for you at LegalWeek.  For links to relevant practioner blawgs – few and far between at the moment, though becoming less so – I am indebted to the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Legal Services Act at TroubleAhead.co.uk which I mention again below and would recommend to anyone interested enough to read this review.

Mark Smith (@Intchallenge) offered up both a retrospective and forward-looking piece at his blog IntelligentChallenge.com with links, comment and discussion on the ever changing landscape of the legal profession, suggesting that over the last two years ‘much of the innovation and drive that has been missing from so many parts of the profession for decades has suddenly been discovered and injected into its flabby buttocks’: The end of the beginning.

Like to Listen?

Before continuing, if you feel partial to kicking back, opening a bottle of Rioja and absorbing more comment on the LSA without the unpleasant left-right-left-right-left-right regimented eye movements that accompany this reading debacle, you might like to hear some of the lawcasts publicised over at charonqc.wordpress.com where he discusses the changes with Neil Rose, and Chrissie Lightfoot the Naked Lawyer among others.  In early 2011 the Rioja afficionado spoke with Jeremy Hopkins, Practice Manager, 3 Verulam Buildings.

“Of course, sets must continue to focus on the Bar’s areas of strength – high quality specialist service at highly competitive cost – and combine this with good communication to the marketplace. A very strange kind of big bang would have to happen to create a market where these fundamentals are no longer a recipe for success.” – read more

As for the effect of the changes on the Bar Jeremy Hopkins’ at Clerkingwell, projects a positive future for the Bar.  He recently wondered whether the increased buying power of a new breed of law firm will mean barristers’ clients having ‘little time for what we regard as traditionally accepted practices’: The Legal Services Act – what now for Chambers?

Tesco Law?

For firms large or small, the mythical Tesco Law has been the monster lurking in the closet ready to pounce as soon as darkness falls and the ABSs arrive.  How do traditional High Street law firms compete with these giants of business and branding?

The points made by Jon Bloor and Michael Scutt, are particularly insightful here: ‘Could it be that lawyers have been worrying too much about Tesco and not enough about Google?’, [will it be] the web that will fundamentally alter the way we practise law, not the Legal Services Act?’.  In fact Michael’s blog has a wealth of comment and information on the deregulation of legal services.  If you are struggling to find blawgs on the LSA by practitioners, as he was, TroubleAhead.co.uk is where you should start.  Another great dedicated resource and a site whose name leaves little to the imagination, run by solicitor and consultant Catherine Baker, is The New Playing Field for Legal Services.

Jon Busby (@legaltwo) casts doubt on the likelihood of Tesco Law, and poses the question: Does anyone know what Tesco Law actually means? answers on a postcard.

Louise Restell’s BlogTo infinity and beyond: Google Law prepares for blast off. says ‘whether the Law Society and the firms it represents like it or not, we are approaching the age of Google Law and nothing will ever be the same again’.

Nick Lindsay envisages ‘the likes of Jones Lang LaSalle negotiating leases [and] Adecco providing employment advice’, noting that ‘In reality, a lot of these firms already do some of this work but with caveats that lawyers should check it so the transition to providing full legal advice will be surprisingly easy’ – find out whether ABS means Death by a thousand cuts for a law firm.

The freelance journalist Polly Botsford notes the OFT hypothesis that ‘Markets generally work best for consumers when there is unrestricted competition between existing suppliers, and unrestricted potential competition from new suppliers and from new forms of supply.’, and wonders what will be the creative impact of alternative business structures on law?  Among many insghtful predictions, one that caught my eye was the potential opportunity for in-house legal teams to begin delivering legal services directly to other businesses.  If this happened, not only are firms likely to face increasing pressure internally to improve efficiency, and new rivalry from Tesco Law, but they might soon be competing with their own clients!

Further Reading from In-House Lawyers and Thought Leaders

However, reading the blogs of 4 tweeting in-house lawyers @legalbrat, @kilroyt, @in_house_lawyer and @legalbizzle I don’t get the impression  they’re likely to set up as ABSs.  Though it is clear from the thoughts they communicate in some of their blog posts, that law firms need to transform themselves, consider alternatives to hourly rate charging, and focus on delivering value.  So, the Legal Services Act doesn’t just present a threat to High Street law firms.  We’re likely to see a huge shake up in the legal market, even if this doesn’t happen straight away.  There is no room for complacency even among the Magic Circle law firms.

I am also going to keep an eye out for what thought leaders in this area @RichardMoorhead , @StephenMayson, @johnflood who offer thought provoking information and comment at Lawyer Watch, StephenMason.com  and John Flood have to say.

By contrast to these innovative thinkers, many law firms may be taking the advice of a well known accountant in one of the big accountancy practices who advises the legal profession on how to run successful practices.  Strikiingly, his advice, at least a few years ago, was that law firms should make sure they charge all the time they spend on a client’s matter.  If you’re in the shower or travelling home, or otherwise away from your desk when you think about a client’s matter, then you should make a note of the time it takes in order to charge your time.  You would be solving a problem of the clients mentally, and so should properly charge for that time.  Is the world still like that for any lawyers I wonder?

Andy's business was certainly alternative, but client meetings were often a little tense

Alternative Business Structures: Who’s Doing It?

So who can we expect to see leading the charge in the new legal landscape? Who will test the water, and how?

Many commentators are waiting with baited breath to see how firms take advantage of new opportunities to attract investment, by sharing ownership with non-lawyers.

Neil Hodge at the International Bar Association suggests that larger City firms don’t see the value in outside investment, citing Slaughter and May, Clifford Chance, Wragge & Co, and Allen & Overy as having spoken out against surrendering equity to raise capital.  Instead, in his article Top Uk law firms react to first Alternative Business Structure flotation Neil identifies mid-tier firms as those most likely to take advantage of the changes, with Everyman Legal and Irwin Mitchell having commited to a structural review by the time he went to print in October.  For a more recent list of ‘first movers’, see The Lawyer’s: 2011 Round-up – Alternative business structures: Street legal.

Legal Futures‘ article in October also delivered news of private investment into the soon-to-be-a-household-name QualitySolicitors, the vision of the business being create the “Specsavers of the legal world”. Find out more here: QualitySolicitors hits the big time as PE investor buys majority stake.

In the meantime, the Law Society Gazette recently reported that the Co-op, and Irwin Mitchell have applied to be ABSs.

Other interesting posts from the Blawgosphere

Finally, I’ve noticed the blog of the Legal Awareness Society founded by Dr Shibley Rahman discuss his difficulties in securing a training contract.  I suspect as the market opens up and new career opportunities present themselves the current plight of law students seeking training contracts will be a distant memory.  More varied careers will open up in the legal market.

Next time on the UK Blawg Circuit

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief trawl through the blawgosphere, and that you will join the Blawg Roundup next time for the 10th instalment hosted by Charon QC at charonqc.wordpress.com.   Before tailing off I also wanted to mention past hosts of the UK Blawg Roundup in whose footsteps we tread where they have not been linked to above: Tessa Shepperson at The Solicitors Online Blog; Paul Hajek at Clutton Cox; and Victoria Moffatt.  For news of future Roundups keep your eyes on UKBlawgRoundup.co.uk.

UK Blawg Roundup #9 – Final Call For Submissions

I am delighted to be hosting the 9th UK Blawg Roundup here at ShireenSmith.com, following in the footsteps of Victoria Moffat, whose September instalment was the 8th in the series, and is available here.  I’ll be taking a look at what the Blawgosphere has had to say about the Legal Services Act in the last 3 months.  I’ll be particularly focusing on Alternative Business Structures, which the SRA is set to begin authorising from January. For earlier Blawg Roundups, pay a visit to www.ukblawgroundup.co.uk.

If you’ve been scribbling and have blog posts to submit for consideration, please get them to me here by December 23rd, so that I’ve got something to keep me busy over the holidays – we’ll be publishing the roundup by January 13th in the New Year.

In the meantime, wishing you all Happy Holidays!

Are multiple sites SEO spam?

spamRobert Ambrogi recently wrote that having multiple sites for a single law firm is ‘SEO spam’.

As the owner of a law firm which has more than one site, Azrights and  Azrights Trade Marks, I was immediately interested.

In Ambrogi’s opinion multiple sites are ‘confusing and misleading to customers‘.

I disagree and would suggest Ambrogi reconsider this question.  There are several advantages in having different websites both from the perspective of the business owner and that of the user.   By using the term ‘spam’, and suggesting multiple sites are only for the search engines rather than for users, Ambrogi overlooks some key benefits to users.

First let’s be clear what we mean by ‘spam’.  Tim Mayer, Director of Product Management for Yahoo Search defined spam as ‘pages created deliberately to trick the search engine into offering inappropriate, redundant or poor quality search results’.

In arguing that law firms with multiple sites are spamming, Ambrogi is effectively saying that these sites are not helpful or useful to potential clients.  I agree that businesses that have multiple websites providing customers with the same content and information are spamming, and are purely designed to increase SEO rankings.

However, to back up his point, Ambrogi cites, M. Stephen Cho, a law firm that has a total of nine websites none of which provide the same content.  Each site provides its audience with a completely different set of information.

The Cho firm has one main site, and the other eight websites are focused on different areas of the law, such as divorce law, criminal defense and bankruptcy.

For example, the Cho firm site for divorce law is specifically designed so that it is relevant for anyone who is looking for legal advice on issues surrounding divorce.  The site has a blog news section, which specifically focuses on issues surrounding this area of the law and a section for case results reviewing previous divorce and custody cases.

A useful reason for having different websites is that they can be targeted at different groups of clients looking for particular products and services. The advantage of having a specialized site for a particular service means potential clients will be able to find exactly what they are looking for straight away and only see information relevant to their particular problem or query.  By having different websites for each particular service area, the Cho firm ensures that the information at hand for its clients is completely relevant for the service they are seeking.

None of the sites of the Cho firm has duplicate content, so I fail to see how they could be said to be spamming.  As long as the content on each site is different, and is relevant and useful to different searchers, all that the firm is doing by having multiple sites is helping clients find what they want more easily. It is a type of signposting similar to putting signs on a motorway to indicate that there is a hotel or restaurant within one mile.

By having specific sites that hone in on different areas of the law, this enables full service law firms or those that have more than one niche area, to create sites with niche focus.

Rather than users having to navigate a main site to find the exact product or service they want, separate sites makes it easier for them to quickly find what they are searching for.

The nature of the Internet and Google means that people are increasingly impatient to find what they want without much effort.  Few people linger on sites for long, and if they have to spend too long working out how to navigate a site to get the information they need, they are likely to be off in search of websites with greater clarity where less effort is needed to find what is wanted.

Yes, multiple sites are a way to increase SEO, but what is wrong with trying to advertise your business and ensure customers can find your page easier?

Innovation as Differentiation?

lightbulbProfessional service firms looking to differentiate themselves generally do so based on client service.

Client service, as I now realise, is shorthand for discovering what your clients, or segments of your clients want and need, and then providing it.  So one way an accountant may differentiate her practice is by using the annual audit as an opportunity to extend her remit to cover tax planning and profitability advice.  These are services many clients will be receptive to being offered.  Yet so many accountants miss the opportunity to identify their clients’ needs in order to provide the additional services they may well be happy to pay for.

If your firm can position itself as a trusted business adviser such as by offering related services that matter to your clients, you will be able to command higher prices, and avoid commoditisation.  Otherwise, clients will have no other criteria on which to select your firm than price.

Yet, it’s important to appreciate that no matter how essential it is to differentiate, the reality is that it’s increasingly difficult to do so in a meaningful or enduring way, given the oversupply of providers.

The legal industry is by no means alone in having too many firms chasing the same work.  Supply exceeds demand in many other industries too, making it generally more difficult to have a differentiating proposition.

The more similar brands become, the more likely people are to select on price, resulting in a downward impact on the prices you can charge.  This trend is very evident to those of us in practice currently as clients haggle over price, and sometimes manage to find alternative firms to do quite specialized work at astonishingly low rates.

The reason for the oversupply in many industries is that information on products and prices is now instantly and globally available.  So niche markets disappear, and as global competition intensifies, supply increases. As this oversupply is not accompanied by an increase in demand worldwide it results in commoditization of products and services, price wars and shrinking profit margins.

So, in overcrowded markets, differentiating brands becomes harder, which is in essence why law firms find it difficult to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Even product brands are becoming more similar as people increasingly select on price.  People won’t necessarily stick to Colgate when Crest is on special offer and vice versa (unless they are subject to the well know ‘pester power’ of their children who tend to be very brand aware).

Deregulation

With deregulation coming into effect in October, many firms will sensibly look to innovation as a way of  differentiating themselves.  They will experiment with innovations which they perceive the  market wants or needs.

Here it’s important to first establish that the innovations are really wanted by clients.  Apart from doing market research, it could help if there were a way of knowing which ideas to run with and which to put on hold.  This would avoid spending unnecessary time and money on projects.

One useful tool for evaluating ideas for new products or services is given in the book Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim & Mauborgne.The book is not a light read, which may explain why I had not read it from beginning to end until recently despite having bought it in 2006.

As the book provides a practical framework and analytics for the systematic pursuit and capture of “blue oceans” it’s well worth taking the time to wade through it if you have an idea and want to assess whether it is a ground breaking one or not.

Blue Ocean Strategies

The book’s message is that the best way to break out of the vicious competitive landscape – represented by the red (bloody) oceans of competition – is to offer the market something completely different – something which makes the competition irrelevant, because there will be none.That is the definition of a blue ocean.

Examples of blue ocean industries unknown 30 years ago include mobile phones, biotechnology, express package delivery, coffee bars, and home videos.  How many unknown industries will exist if we put the clock forward 10-20 years?

Cirque du Soleil

Among the many examples of a blue ocean concept the book discusses is Cirque du Soleil which was born out of a dying industry, that of the circus.  Cirque du Soleil didn’t win by taking customers from the already shrinking circus industry, which traditionally catered to children.

It created new market space that made the competition irrelevant. In a crowded market the prospects for profits and growth are reduced. Cut throat competition turns the red ocean bloody whereas blue oceans are untapped market space, where demand is created, as well as potentially high profitable growth.  Most blue oceans are created from within red oceans by expanding industry boundaries.

“The only way to beat the competition is to stop trying to beat the competition. In red oceans, the industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are known. In blue oceans, competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set. …The companies caught in the red ocean followed a conventional approach, racing to beat the competition by building a defensible position within the existing industry order. The creators of blue oceans, surprisingly, didn’t use the competition as their benchmark. …Instead of focusing on beating the competition, they focus on making the competition irrelevant by creating a leap in value for buyers and your company, thereby opening up new and uncontested market space. …Value innovation is based on the view that market boundaries and industry structure are not given’ and can be reconstructed by the actions and beliefs of industry players.

History shows that industries continuously evolve, and are being created and expanded over time.Industry conditions and boundaries are not given.  For example, what Cirque de Soleil did was to look across market boundaries to alternatives to the circus. It ended up being part circus and part theatre.

Rather than focus on the market boundaries, they focused on the job the customer was hiring for — in this case, it was adults looking for sophisticated entertainment. Another key thing they did was to not target the existing market (that is, children), rather they targeted non-consuming adults.

Creating and capturing new demand

innovation

Blue ocean strategy is all about creating and capturing net new demand by ignoring boundaries defined by traditional competitors.

Strategy is what creates blue oceans, and value innovation is the cornerstone of blue ocean strategy.  This is to be contrasted to value creation – something that improves value but isn’t sufficient to make you stand out in the marketplace.  Innovation without value tends to be technology driven, market pioneering or futuristic, often shooting beyond what buyers are ready to accept and pay for.

Value innovation occurs only when companies align innovation with utility, price and cost positions.  Value innovation isn’t grounded in value-cost trade off.  The conventional belief is that companies can either create greater value at a higher cost or reasonable value at a lower cost – that is strategy is seen as making a choice between differentiation and low cost. However, blue oceans pursue differentiation and low cost simultaneously.  They involve redefining the problem rather than providing solutions to existing problems.

So value innovation is more than innovation.  It requires companies to orient the whole system toward achieving a leap in value for both buyers and themselves.  The aim is to create new best practice rules by breaking the existing value/cost trade off and thereby creating a blue ocean.

Reading this book closely, has helped me avoid spending time and energy on ideas to tackle problems that currently exist – such as the lack of access to legal services by the latent market (see my earlier blog post on the subject of latent markets) Reading the book might also help you to avoid experimenting with ideas that could prove to be distractions.

Differentiate or Die – Survival in Era of Alternative Business Structures

This is the last of 3 blog posts (see previous posts here, and here) on law firm differentiation that I’ve written on the important task of differentiating law firms.

scale11This headline is inspired by the title of Jack Trout’s book Differentiate or Die which explains why survival in our era of ‘Killer Competition’ makes it imperative to distinguish our firms from those of competitors.  This is important as we approach the final stages of deregulation in October 2011.

Legal Services Act and the Alternative Business Structure (ABS)

While some lawyers believe the introduction of ABSs (whereby non-lawyers will be able to hold a stake in law firms) will only impact on high street firms, it’s difficult to see how the possibility of providing a comprehensive range of services incorporating traditional areas of legal practice alongside related commercial solutions, is NOT going to lead to a significant change in the market for legal services for all types of law firm.

At a recent Law Management section talk Nick Jarrett-Kerr expressed the view that the actual impact of deregulation in October 2011 will depend on how much external interest there is in the legal sector, and whether the economy is flat or expanding by then.  If the economy is doing well and there is little external interest, people are likely to say  ‘What was the Fuss About?’ while if there is huge external interest and a flat economy, the legal ‘Big Bang’ will mean Doomsday for many firms.  So, his advice was to assume the worst and plan for it.

In my view being clear about what you offer and how you differ from competitors (not just law firms) is how you can stand out in your chosen area of practice, and survive and thrive.  So, the search for a differentiating strategy has to begin by studying your business, and the markets you serve, in order to identify ways to better meet your target market’s needs.

Service and relationships

I was disappointed that the Law Management conference emphasised quality, standards, and excellent customer service as the way to differentiate law firms.  This same message is often reflected in discussions on LinkedIn and blogs.

Why is everyone telling law firms to focus on customer service, which can rarely be a successful differentiator as Jack Trout explains in Differentiate or Die?

I can only assume it’s a reaction to the poor quality service that some law firms have given in the past.  Some firms have been poor at communicating with clients and keeping them informed, and failed to return phone calls promptly enough.  But surely the fact that some or even many firms need to improve in these basic ways and learn how to run their businesses properly to survive does not justify this emphasis on quality, standards and service by the Law Management section and others?

Pursuing service (exceeding client expectations) and relationships as differentiators is in danger of becoming the new non differentiators.

Size

There is a widespread belief that law firms are going to have to get much bigger to survive.  But I have yet to hear of a large firm that has managed to benefit from economies of scale so as to reduce its hourly charge out rates.  Indeed, the very opposite seems to happen – the larger the firm, the higher its charge out rates. Clearly the knowledge business is not the same as supermarkets.  Tesco’s size does enable it to lower its prices, and that’s achieved through Tesco’s increased buying power.

In the law, size introduces bureaucracy and inefficiencies, as well as allowing the law firm to have fantastic premises and facilities.   The larger firms also have the necessary resources and reach to service the needs of big global businesses.

However, just as the investment management industry has ended up with both very large firms and small niche hedge funds which focus and specialise in particular ways, so in law there is a place for small niche firms to exist alongside the large firms.

There are benefits to being small.  Niche firms can scale up using outsourcing, and collaboration with other firms both locally and internationally, and are well placed to meet certain market needs.  Generally,  small firms are the ones that charge lower rates – possibly because they do not have the layers of bureaucracy.  They also  tend not to retain a team of expensive specialist staff who may not be fully utilised.

If we are to see the emergence of large law firms along the lines of the banks, focused on meeting the needs of consumers and small businesses I hope they will not be emphasising service and relationships.  This is precisely what banks do today, and look at them.

The banks

Banks are all so alike as to make it difficult to choose between them.  If you are dissatisfied with one, will you end up with more of the same by moving to another?

It certainly seems that way in the absence of any differentiators between them.  They all pay lip service to service and relationships.

When I moved our account to HSBC a relationship manager was assigned to me.  I was impressed to be given her mobile number.  Only there was never a reply from that phone.  The reality is that I talk to a succession of call centre operators who work to scripts that are robot like.  Even where they are ringing me in response to a letter I’ve sent, they start by asking a security question – my date of birth.  This infuriates me because it’s always the same question, and I am sometimes in an open plan office where people are listening.  Yet I have never managed to persuade any of the operators to forego the question, or to ask a different question or to ask the question in a more imaginative way, such as what’s the first digit, the sixth digit etc.  I now dread the need to communicate with HSBC as they won’t use a more secure way of asking their security questions.

My banking experience highlights how difficult it is for the consumer when there is no differentiation in an industry – which there isn’t when they all use the same rhetoric to position themselves.

For law firms, service is a given.  Indeed no business survives long term without giving an effective and competent service.  Differentiating on service shouldn’t just be a gimmick.  Giving extraordinary service takes time, and costs money.  So in a climate where law firms are under pressure to reduce their prices it’s inappropriate and contradictory to advise them to differentiate on service and quality standards.  They can’t both reduce prices and increase service in any real and meaningful way.

Much better to differentiate in ways which will meet a market need that isn’t currently being addressed by competitors.  For example, opening at weekends for meetings and telephone enquiries would be a way to stand out, and would be of real value to a client base consisting of workers who are in full time employment.

Conclusion

In the new deregulated climate many law firms should be looking to differentiate themselves and to innovate.  To arrive at a successful differentiating strategy it is important to understand your own business and your target market’s needs.  Avoid trying to be all things to all clients.  Delegating the task of differentiation to a marketing company is not necessarily going to prove successful unless the owners of the firm understand the issues I’ve touched on in these 3 blog posts.

It’s likely the Legal Services Act will see many new offerings in the market.  For law firms to compete effectively it’s going to be important to know which ideas to run with and which to put on hold.  Otherwise, there is potential to lose a lot of time and money on the wrong projects.  My next post will reveal a useful tool for evaluating new product or service ideas.

Developing a USP

Differentiating A Law Firm Part 2

Trying to distinguish a law firm with the message “We are smarter, more experienced, do a better job, are tougher litigators” is a mistake as discussed in my earlier post Differentiating A Law Firm part 1.

To research this topic I read a number of websites.  One that stood out was Fishman’s. By discovering how he helped law firms in the USA to differentiate themselves, I was able to finalise my own thoughts for developing a USP (unique selling proposition) for Azrights.  Now we just need a suitable branding company to properly communicate and convey our USP.  Will write a blog about it once done.

So, what is effective law firm positioning?  Having deep expertise in a particular industry or niche is a successful differentiator because people prefer specialists over generalists.

Specialisation/Market segment

specialisation-pic

An example of focusing on a specific audience is the story of US firm:  Slaten Law.  A decade ago when they were a small 2 year old general practice they had a few clients in the pest control industry.  Fishman explains:  “This was a multi-billion industry that no law firm had targeted.  It offered a finite universe, where everyone went to the same conventions and read the same publication, Pest Control Today. The firm’s website was revised to feature crawling termites ….and bugs…”

Visiting the firm’s website today, it’s clear the firm has moved on. It has identified further markets, such as Dram Shops, Automotive, Nursing Homes, and therefore no longer uses a Pest Control focused website. But the firm’s experience illustrates how powerful it is to focus on narrow industry niches.  It is quite common to have several industry niches.

But what do you do to stand out when there are dozens of others targeting the same niche areas?  For example, small Intellectual Property law firms were quite rare a few years ago, but are now quite commonplace, as many practitioners have left larger firms and set up their own firms.  I’ve been concerned to learn how our niche IP firm can communicate its difference so as to stand out among other IP firms.  I’ve discovered that one way to do so is to focus on your unique message.

Differentiating by service:  exceeding client expectations

When differentiating the Chicago-based labour and employment firm Laner Muchin, Fishman focused on the message of “responsiveness.”  “Lack of responsiveness is among the biggest complaints clients express about law firms,” said Fishman.  “As I interviewed the partners, a recurring theme emerged – ‘We generally return all client phone calls within two hours.’  Bingo.  The firm’s message became ‘Two hours. Period.’”
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Laner Muchin issued a challenge and used advertising to push this challenge to non-client prospects (a group that was more likely to be dissatisfied by their existing lawyers’ lack of responsiveness):  “Call your current lawyer and leave a message to return your call.  Wait an hour or two (to give your lawyer a decent head start), then call one of our lawyers and leave the same message.  See who calls you back first.  We’re betting it’ll be us.  If it’s not, we’ll buy you lunch and donate $100 to your favourite charity.”

“It was a win/win proposition,” said Fishman.  “When we won the challenge, we made a strong positive impression on someone in a position to hire us.  On those rare occasions when we lost the challenge, our punishment was a lunch date with a potential client!”

Learning from John Lewis and Domino’s USPs

The specific differentiating message Laner Muchin adopted is – “Two Hours. Period”.  Other firms who also want to exceed client expectations (as many commonly do judging by the number of websites I’ve come across that say this) need to differentiate around their own unique message, rather than copying another firm’s USP.  The message needs to reflect the way they do business, while being sufficiently important to their ideal clients to help sway the decision to hire the firm.

This is where self analysis helps.  Often firms are only able to discover a USP by engaging marketing experts to question staff,  partners, clients and former clients.  That can get rather expensive.

It’s surprising that none of the larger law firms have yet developed unique and memorable USPs given the power of a strong USP.  For example, consider John Lewis’ strap line, Never Knowingly Undersold.  It reassures people that if they shop at John Lewis they will get good quality products at a fair price.

A USP answers the question “why should I do business with you over all the other options available to me?” Domino Pizza’s answer is:

You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free.”

According to Small Business Marketing blog this USP was a mark of genius when first introduced. The concept of a fast delivery service was not commonplace in the pizza business then. Notice how all these USPs have a guarantee wrapped into them.

Working with High Net Worth individuals

Ayesha Vardag is an example of a UK solicitor who differentiates her firm by subject (family law) and also by targetting a certain segment of the market – namely, high net worth individuals.

In the early days of her law firm, now Vardag Solicitors we happened to be in the same networking group.  The group met weekly, and the two of us had lunch a few times.  I am not at all surprised by her subsequent success, in managing to represent clients such as Radmacher in the recent ground breaking pre-nups case. She was cystal clear about her target clients, and sacrificed by not taking on lower end work.  Her background at the bar had given her a taste for big ticket cases, and she gradually developed a strategy for securing high net worth clients who were likely to be litigating sums involving millions of pounds.

What is not differentiating

I asked for suggestions of effective law firm differentiation on Linked In.  Quanticks solicitors who have become paperless and Setfords Solicitors who employ a “unique consultancy model” were two firms put forward.

In my humble opinion neither of these are differentiators for a law firm.  It is quite commonplace to be paperless and to use self employed consultants working remotely.  Azrights is both, but these are insufficient to make us stand out.

In a conversation with Julian Summerhayes on Twitter, he remarked that it can be a differentiator for a law firm to engage in social media.  My own view is that if it is a differentiator now, it won’t be for long.  More and more law firms are beginning to have a presence on Twitter and Facebook, so how can any of them claim to be distinctive by that mere fact?

Road map road-map-pic1

Business is no different to any other area of life.  If you know where you want to get to and have a road map to help you reach your destination, then you have a good chance of succeeding.  For law firms to have a road map involves differentiating themselves and having a USP.

Most law firms don’t generally know what they want, and if they know what they want, they have no clear plan for getting there.  With the impending regulatory changes it is critically important for law firms to clarify their positioning.

In my final blog post on law firm differentiation I will discuss the impact that regulatory changes brought about by the Legal Services Act might have on law firms.

Differentiating a Law Firm

This is the first of 3 blog posts on law firm differentiation. With deregulation arriving in October 2011 it will become even more important for law firms to be positioned effectively. As a law firm owner, I’ve struggled with this topic, and hope to gain increasing clarity by writing about it. I’m also interested in the subject of branding from my perspective as a trade mark lawyer.

Differentiating a Law Firm

istock_000006773575largeThe key to success in any business, and law is a business like any other, is to differentiate a firm from the many others offering similar services. Your differentiating proposition effectively says to consumers that buying from you will give them a specific benefit.This benefit must be unique to you, and be powerful enough to move the buyer to choose you.

Where there is insufficient differentiation between firms the client’s choice is more likely to come down to price. With effective positioning, and a strong USP (unique selling proposition), buyers may be led to believe there is simply no substitute for your service. So, if, for example, you are the ‘go to’ expert on iPhone Apps, then anyone needing advice in this area would be more likely to choose your firm.

However, the fact that so many firms are getting their differentiating strategy wrong is a clear sign that it is not easy to differentiate a law practice in these desirable ways.

Why is it difficult to differentiate?

To stand out as different to other law firms offering similar services, involves narrowing your focus so you market to a specific niche rather than to everyone. However, to do so you first need to work out whether there is sufficient market need within a niche area to justify your focussing on that area. You also have to be willing to sacrifice work in order to better target your ideal client.

Specialising in a specific subject area of the law is a differentiator, but the narrower you go the more likely you are to stand out among other firms who focus on the same general area. Paradoxically, narrowing your focus in order to acquire depth of expertise, and fully understand buyers’ concerns, and the industry, is also likely to attract work in your broader subject area.

While some firms may be tempted to call in marketing experts to help them arrive at a differentiating position, my own view is that law firms know their own business better than anyone else. So, if they take time to do research, and work out their own answers and solutions in the first instance they will get more value from marketing specialists once they engage them.

The problem: using generic messages

The sort of differentiating position which is ineffective is well explained by Ross Fishman, an attorney in this example of a message by the typical law firm:

Our firm is big/small and old and has a distinguished history. We offer the technical skills of a large firm and the collegial culture of a small firm.  Our lawyers work as a team.  We are efficient, service-oriented and we partner with our clients.  We are very community-service oriented.

We represent absolutely everyone, from individuals to international corporations, in every conceivable area of the law – from ADR to Zoning. We are the best in every single one of these areas.  Here are 24 pages of alphabetical descriptions of every practice area.

Our message is illustrated with photos of our city skyline, our building, our lobby and/or conference room, a group of diverse lawyers staring seriously at the camera with law books in the background, and area courthouses – especially their columns and their front steps.

Our graphics include chessboards (“We are strategic”); light bulbs (“We have good ideas”); handshakes (“We partner with clients”); globes and maps (“We are national or global”); laptops (“We are high-tech”); and gavels and scales of justice (“We are – big surprise – lawyers”).

What is differentiation? Some pointers

A book worth consulting to better understand marketing and branding is Differentiate or Die – Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition by Jack Trout. Another useful book is Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. These and other books, and more information appears on a branding site I stumbled upon

Working out how to position your firm involves a lot of introspection as you try to determine how you are distinct or unique. Is there something about your world view or the way you do business? Will feedback your clients have given you about the firm hold the key to your USP? Do you have industry expertise which could form the basis of your positioning messages?

If it all sounds very theoretical it certainly feels it. But gradually by reviewing the books to better understand differentiation you do begin to arrive at ideas for simple ideas that encapsulate your point of difference. Getting the help of a good marketing consultant is, in my view, essential to complete the process of identifying whether your ideas are capable of standing for something that will endure, and if so, how best to convey them in a short, clear and easy to understand marketing proposition.

In the next blog piece (available here), I’m going to begin with a few examples of law firm differentiation that seem effective, and consider how these might help differentiate our firms.

Business Tweeting

I’ve just begun to use a second Twitter account,  @shireensmith, in addition to the one I run for @azrights So I’ve been looking into how company and law firm Twitter accounts are run to decide how to handle the @azrights account moving forward.

Should I adopt the common approach of using a logo rather than my picture, and depersonalise the account, so it’s not evident I am the “face” behind the @azrights tweets?

Purpose of Tweeting

As with anything it helps to be clear on goals, before reaching decisions.

When I first started using Twitter 2 years ago, I decided to use just the one account @azrights because I was just experimenting, and thought it unlikely I would find time to tweet through more than one twitter account.I certainly didn’t have a publishing need to justify two accounts.That’s now all changed.

I have begun writing some blogs on law firm marketing and business – explained more in the Introducing Myself section.As this type of content is not appropriate to the Azrights IP-Brands blog audience, who is more interested in information about starting up in business, or IPRs, it makes sense to find a different forum for publishing my law business writings.

Although, I write for the Solo IP blog some of the material I’m currently interested to write about, such as legal process outsourcing, is not of interest to that audience.

So, it makes sense to publish my musings on marketing and the business of law on this, my personal website, and to tweet about those issues in my own name, rather than via @azrights.

How to run the Azrights Twitter account

Looking at businesses I know and respect I notice that business accounts tend not to indicate who is tweeting for the business.They commonly feature a logo instead of a picture of an individual, and predominantly broadcast by posting links to blog posts.

Social media is still relatively new.  We are all experimenting to some extent, and discovering what works and what doesn’t work.  There may be no right or wrong way to deal with these matters, although it is generally agreed that broadcasting is not the way to go – see for example, Adrian Dayton’s recent post Twitter: Still Misunderstood by Law Firms.

I instinctively prefer the @zappos approach to running a business account.The name of the CEO – Tony – appears on the profile, giving the business more of a personality.

Given that people buy people, I think it makes sense to have the owner of the business, or its CEO (if the business is a large one), at the heart of the business’ tweeting.This makes for a more colourful Twitter presence, which is surely more likely to result in greater engagement with the business, than if the business has a bland and anonymous corporate Twitter account.

Nearly two years have passed since I wroteThe Impact of the Social Web saying “Today as more and more customers are turning to the Internet when they want to find out about products and services, new methods are emerging for engaging them.  Blogs, online news releases, social media, and other forms of web content give companies the opportunity to communicate with buyers directly – at the time when the buyer wants the content, rather than interrupting them when they are doing something else…..”

So, I’ve decided to adopt a different approach to the norm with our Azrights account

It’s all about engagement

One of our aims in engaging in social media, and in particular, using Twitter, is to engage in dialogue with existing and potential clients.  Therefore, it makes sense for us to to avoid having an impersonal, corporate Twitter presence.

Why have a bland, boring, business account, and leave the real online networking to individual lawyers and staff, when we can engage directly with potential clients through our own business account?

In other words I intend to keep a picture of myself, rather than using a logo as the avatar to promote the brand.Featuring our own logo isn’t as important as having an approachable real human face to the business.  I realise this means only a minority of followers will see our logo, given that few visit the Twitter page, where the logo appears, as they use other tools, such as Tweet deck or Hoot Suite, to access twitter, but so what?They’ll see the firm’s branding if they visit the website, or blog, or request price information etc.

What do you think?Should businesses and law firms bring their founders and managing partners more directly into their firm’s twitter profiles?Should they use the firm account more prominently to actively engage with the community? If so, do you have thoughts as to how? Let me know your thoughts.

Web 2.0 and blogging

The incident involving Community Trade Mark Filing Service and defamation threats has been thought provoking on many levels.

Only recently I wrote an article on online reputation monitoring for the Society of Computers and Law magazine.  (The article is accessible to members, and at £50 per annum, membership is excellent value).
In the article I discussed how web 2.0 technologies like blogs and forums which allow ordinary people with no HTML skills to post content online are the beginning of a massive sea change in society. Ironically, in that article I also mentioned how a heavy handed legal approach could sometimes backfire dramatically and have the very opposite effect to that intended. I gave the example of Usmanov and Craig Murray. (I am not aware of the ins and outs of the case, so mentioning it is not intended as a criticism of Schilling’s approach so much as an illustration of how the internet is turning the old rules on their head).

So we are rapidly seeing the need to adopt a different style in this new connected web environment. I suggest that strong threatening defamation letters should be reserved for really serious and clear cut defamation cases. A more softly softly approach is sensible initially in all other cases.

For example, CTMFS’ director Mr Evans, went over the top in sending me such a strong letter threatening legal proceedings, and demanding an apology, damages, correction etc. That is why I published it on this blog. It is a good example of what not to do. It also illustrates the dangers of non lawyers using standard legal precedents in non standard situations. Rather than asking a lawyer to send me a letter, he chose to fire off his standard template to me. I am sure if he had sought legal advice first, the letter I would have received would have been more proportionate, and therefore might have achieved a better outcome.

Blogging on the hazards of blogging – using a Californian server
Californian surfer

Californian surfer (Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Which leads me to the main purpose of this article, and that is to say that following this CTMFS experience which has been unpleasant, and negative, I have decided I need a US based location for any blogging that becomes controversial. On an everyday level I will be using it to write about the hazards of blogging.

The legal rules that UK web hosts are subject to, means that if you write anything controversial which others want to force you to take down, then your web host risks liability for the content if it continues to host the objectionable material. However, US hosts are subject to more favourable laws. For example, Blogger.com is hosted by Google in the USA, so you would not have to worry about having your voice cut off by your host if you said something someone wanted to have removed. I will be writing more about the liability of hosts in future blog posts.

For now I just want to say that I am now also blogging via http://www.shireensmith.com. This is being hosted in California, and now contains all the blog posts that Mr Evans might want removed from our IP Brands blog.  The reason for choosing California is that it is that I like the sound of its favourable environment for bloggers, with its anti-SLAPP laws – a topic I will be looking into more closely in future blog posts. This is not directly relevant to me personally of course as I am a UK based individual and therefore subject to UK defamation laws, but its significance sounds like an interesting topic to explore in future blogs.