Category Archives: Social Media

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, 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.


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’ – 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.


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 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 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 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, 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,  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   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

Thank You For Attending Tweet Up on 15 August

First and foremost, a big huge THANK YOU from @azrights and me,to all of the attendees who came to the #TweetingLegals tweet up on 15 August.

@iptechshark, @AjeetMinhasGTB, @Alphapoint, @andrewneligan, @Baby_Barrister, @ben_hoff, @ChristianUncut, @chris_rodgers, @copyrightgirl, @DeferoLaw, @filemot, @gamerlaw, @Greggio_f, @James_Sweeting, @JaneClemetson, @jezhop, @keithhardie, @kevinpoulter, @michaelscutt, @MilenaBurieva, @NewLeafLaw, @oohsonia, @PaulHajek, @pensionlawyeruk, @Pupillageblog, @RalphOAnderson, @robinjfisher, @Sharma_Co, @SundeepBhatia2, @TMT_Lawyer.  There were a few whose names I did not get, so am sorry if I have missed your name out.  If you let me know I’ll add it here.

It was a good chance to catch up with the tweeps I’d met before and to meet new ones.   For one person’s perspective on Tweet ups read Joanna Goodman who has written a blog about the TweetingLegals’ event.

It has been so encouraging seeing the interest there is within the legal community for a regular tweet up.  When you manage to get a good crowd together, even in August, you know there is demand for a forum where everyone can relax and engage with each other and take a break from the virtual world.  So I hope to see an increase in the rate of RSPV’s for the next event in September.

It was interesting to meet TweetingLegals and learn about the resources and services they are providing within their specialized areas.  It was also stimulating to hear other people’s insights, and hopefully some people got a few ideas for developing and growing their own careers and businesses.

Thanks to all for contributing £5 towards the food bill. This was more than enough for food, and we were also able to buy drinks for everyone too.  There is a small surplus which we intend to use for a fab TweetingLegals Christmas party, which there seemed an appetite for. tweet-up-pic

tweet-up-picI hope to see many of the same and some new faces too at the next tweet up.  We’ve scheduled this for 26 September, at the same venue – (The Knights Templar 95, Chancery Lane, WC2A 1DT ).

Please let me have any comments or feedback.  Following feedback from previous tweet ups, we laid on badges, and took contributions for food, and reserved a separate area of the pub (in the balcony area) for ourselves.  So, what else would you like to see to improve the Tweet ups?

Be sure to RSPV so we get an accurate note of attendees.  We need this information in order to secure a separate area in the pub.  It would also be worthwhile joining our Group if you haven’t already done so, so you hear about future events – Join Here.

I look forward to meeting you at the next Tweet up.  In the meantime, Happy Tweeting!

Twitter Etiquette – Twitiquette

clipboard01Twitter is a whole new way of communicating and interacting with others. People use the platform to do and say any number of things, and unsurprisingly many tweeps have their own views as to the correct way of using Twitter.

There is still no consensus about how best to use Twitter.  For example, some believe it’s okay to  unfollow people on Twitter, and that unfollowing doesn’t automatically mean “I don’t like you.”  So a common reaction when such Twitter behaviour is under discussion, is that this is not what Twitter is about.  People follow those who tweet on subjects that interest them etc.

Others on the other hand may be confused if you unfollow them, or fail to follow them when they’re following you.  They may be offended if you fail to respond to their @ messages or direct messages (DM) – although if you’re a celebrity receiving thousands of @ messages daily, it’s accepted you won’t have time to reply to them all.

At the heart of these differences lie two completely different approaches to Twitter.

Those who use Twitter as a channel to engage and interact with other users talk disparagingly of broadcasters using it primarily as a micro-blogging platform. While broadcasters consider Twitter to be more a news channel than a social networking platform, and wish the responders would take their nonsensical patter to a chat room where they could natter on in privacy.

Pete Cashmore of Mashable fame has nearly 20,000 followers and follows fewer than 1,000.  Generally speaking, responders tend to be those who have streams filled with @ commands and they would be expected to follow lots of people.  Whereas broadcasters tend to follow far fewer people than follow them, and won’t necessarily feel the need to respond to @ notes or DMs.

There is very little sign of engagement on Pete Cashmore’s Twitter stream. So he might be described as falling in the broadcasting camp.  However, as the founder of Mashable he is hardly dismissable as someone who is ignorant about proper Twitter use! (Interestingly, Pete uses his own picture on Mashable instead of a logo – a subject I discussed in my blog post Business Tweeting).

So, how you behave on Twitter depends on which of these two camps you lean towards.  If you believe Twitter is all about engagement, and is a great way to build relationships you’ll try to also promote other people. You’re likely to retweet people you know, partly because they have an interesting update, but also to help them get noticed.  You’ll believe that joining conversations and answering questions is the way to go in order to create relationships.

It’s worth bearing in mind how easy it is therefore, to adopt behaviors that are more reflective of the opposite camp to the one you essentially subscribe to if you don’t take the time to think through the small details. Inconsistency can creep in all too easily as Twitter is still in its infancy, people are testing the waters, and you hear all sorts of random views about what Twitter is or is not supposed to be all about.

While nobody believes you have to respond to every @ mention – on the other hand, the more you can respond, the more people tend to stay with you and build relationships.

I recently tweeted: “Deciding never to retweet or #ff anyone who doesn’t thank me when I do so”. This was followed by a second tweet saying “How I will remember who did not thank me for a retweet or #ff so I don’t favour them in this way again is another matter”

While of course I’m not going to notice or remember who does or does not say thank you because I’ve got better things to do in life, if for some reason, someone’s behaviour jars wih me, then I will hold it against them….. until I forget about it again.

As they say: every action has an equal and opposite reaction….

This is human nature even though our sensitivity levels do differ, as does our ability to forgive and forget. (I have yet to work out how to thank for mentions and #ffs without cluttering up my twitter stream and am trialling sending thanks by DM or just retweeting the #ff ).

Some people never thank anyone – possibly in essence they are broadcasters, or maybe they do thank them in DMs, or perhaps they have made a policy decision not to waste time giving thanks.  Provided a consistent approach is adopted this is less likely to offend than inconsistency – thanking some people but not others.

The same social skills that help you make others feel recognised in real life (IRL),  and which don’t cost a lot of time go a long way on Twitter too.  Just as if you snub people IRL, or make them feel overlooked they may get upset, so it can happen on Twitter.  That is why if someone unfollows me, I will wonder if it was something I did or said.

If you belong to the engagement school of thought, then it’s important to bear in mind, when making policy decisions about your Twitter approach, to remember that Twitter does not change the normal (unwritten) rules of etiquette.  If you know somebody IRL and they begin to follow you, then I believe you should follow them back

Often when people are retweeting information, there are a variety of different people available to them to credit with the information.  If you want to be noticed and retweeted, then as well as having interesting updates, it matters to know how to win friends and influence people on Twitter as much as IRL.

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:

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, 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 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.