Could you thrive in the slipstream of the big brands?

We’ve yet to see what impact big money brands will have on the legal market but the general consensus seems to be that it won’t be pretty.

Legal services sold like cans of beans by giant corporations with no soul or sense of duty and no passion for law; only for making money. The result: thousands of high street firms going out of business as everyone falls before the machine-like efficiency of the conglomerates.

At least, that’s how the pessimists see it.

Of course, some smaller firms will fall victim. And those that survive will almost certainly lose market share. But will it really be the end for so many? I don’t think so. On the contrary, as long as firms can adapt, there is plenty of room for optimism.

Catherine Baksi, in her In Business blog, pointed out that doom mongers predicted the end of high street optician services when that market was opened up 25 years ago. In fact, the opposite happened with the number of high street outlets growing rather than decreasing, despite the emergence of big-name players such as Boots and Asda.

Baksi explores the reasons for this in her post so I won’t go into detail here, other than to say that the big brands who started offering optometry services helped to create a new wave of demand because of their intensive advertising. The result was that the market grew, creating room for everyone.

Could the same thing happen in legal services? Probably not to the same degree because the legal and optical services markets are very different, but it’s possible that there will be some growth. Big advertising campaigns will not only tempt clients from one provider to another, as a by-product they may also stimulate new demand.

Of course, we don’t know how the big brands will market their services or even which services. And when they do, won’t they be the ones to benefit from any extra demand they create? Well, it’s likely they’ll be the main beneficiaries but probably not the only ones.

Advertising may prompt someone into seeking out a legal service they hadn’t realised they needed, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will turn to the advertiser to provide that service. They are just as likely to turn to a high street provider they’ve done business with in the past – as long as that firm had provided a good service.

Research by the legal IT provider Peppermint Technology is interesting in this context. It carried out a survey of a thousand consumers and found that when considering legal service providers, the most important factor for them when choosing one was cost and recommendations from others – 44% said they would be swayed by recommendations from friends and 16% said they would ask people they knew from other professions such as estate agents and accountants.

Only 15% considered a brand name as a factor.

Of course, 15% is extremely important and big firms who can promote their brand will certainly benefit. At the same time, the low percentage shows that brand isn’t everything, regardless of the advertising budget. It means word-of-mouth recommendation is still going to be extremely important. The best way to achieve this is to provide a good service to clients; the second best way is to continue to cultivate those clients long after they have left your office.

Find reasons to keep in touch and keep your name fresh in their minds. If you do, they are more likely to return and just as importantly, they will be more likely to recommend you to friends and colleagues.

It’s a long-term commitment but it will pay dividends by helping you hold on to clients in the face of advertising campaigns by the big players. Who knows, it may even help you share some of the increased business stimulated by advertising campaigns paid for by other firms.

Maybe you could ride along in their slipstream. Now wouldn’t that be satisfying.

First published in the Law Gazette in 2012