No-one could have believed in the last years of the twentieth century that the legal sector was being watched keenly and closely by artificial intelligences greater than ours who did not need to rest or take part in CPD.
As solicitors and barristers busied themselves about their various concerns, marketing companies, big brands, and ambitious franchise networks were scrutinising and studying their business models for revenue opportunities; perhaps almost as narrowly as a football referee with VAR might scrutinise player positions to judge whether they were off-side or not when the ball was passed.
Hat-tip to HG Wells for inspiring the opening of this piece. Pity about the quality of the recent BBC adaptation.
As we enter the 20th year of the 21st century, much of the legal world we knew back as the Queen and Tony Blair joined hands in the Millennium Dome to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ has disappeared.
Although the market for legal services is growing, the climate we’re operating in is different. There is now:
- far more competition from non-traditional firms and from networks,
- downward pressure on fees, and
- an expectation from our clients that our attention is on-demand, no matter what other work we’re dealing with at the time.
In this article, I'd like to share what we at Sprout believe will be three of the most important development in the legal tech sector in the coming twelve months – and they’re all about engaging with clients in a different way.
I’ll examine why…
- content marketing will be more widely deployed in the competition for prospective customers’ eyeballs
- 2020 might be the year of the legal chatbot
- the organisation of legal knowledge within a business into online products might produce a valuable new income stream for firms.
The adoption of content marketing for legal firms
Why pick up the phone to a solicitor if you can research whether the director’s guarantee you’ve signed is binding or not?
According to KeyWordTool.io, people search for…
- "are directors responsible for company debt"
- "are personal guarantees enforceable"
- "can a director be liable for company debts"
- "types of personal guarantees"
- "unenforceable personal guarantee"
In other words, they’re going to Google before they’re coming to you.
This behaviour is not exclusive solely to the legal sector. People search for answers in an attempt not to have to search for a supplier to save them money. So the best outcome you can achieve is to give the client the answer they want online and for free (although your answers will be generic) on your website where you build credibility and encourage direct contact on the page.
If you can’t beat them, join them. An increasing number of legal firms are therefore using content marketing to be the website on which potential clients’ questions are answered.
Content marketing is the use of blogs, articles, white papers, downloadable materials, and shareable materials on your own website, websites which your target audience visit and trust, and on social media networks.
It’s there to capture people’s attention, to build trust in your brand, and to persuade them to leave their contact details with you at:
- the awareness phase (when they think they might need legal advice)
- the consideration phase (where they have accepted that there is a problem and they are doing their own ‘due diligence’ about it)
- the decision phase (where they accept that the information on the enforceability of directors’ guarantees online is too generic and they need to pay a professional for help).
This is the exact same marketing technique being used so successfully by an increasingly number of traditional firms and by white-label legal service providers.
We’d strongly recommend that you get on board with this trend as soon as you can – many of our clients have already started with their content and distribution plans.
…and on the subject of information on demand
Clients now expect the information they want to be available when they want it and where they want it. Content marketing is the most effective way of doing this, in our opinion.
But we see your pre-engagement interactions with clients becoming even more demanding and personable too.
Legal chatbots aren’t exactly a new phenomenon but the technology behind it is becoming better all the time through a combination of advances in artificial intelligence and in Natural Language Processing.
For now, however, we see strong advantages in legal firms investing in chatbots with the goal of leading clients straight away to automated legal services available on your website.
This would be a valuable extra source of revenue in a time when profit levels are being squeezed because the automated nature of the solution you are proving circumvents the need for human involvement (and the subsequent salary and associated costs).
“Parker”, an automated chatbot for Australian law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, took part in 1,000 conversations in its first day deployed raising A$15,000 in revenue for the firm, according to the FT. Autom.io has an interesting list of “5 lawyer chatbots you can try now”.
Commoditisation of legal expertise
Not every contract needs a lawyer. Not every dispute needs a solicitor to mediate. Your clients know this as well as you do but there is still an opportunity to profit from the combined in-house knowledge, experience, and insight you have within your firm.
The internet is full of websites selling downloadable contracts of all kinds – lease agreements, business partnerships, terms and conditions of supply, HR and employment, services agreements, and so on. There is a degree of personalisation available on many of these websites but they are not particularly sophisticated because they’ve not been built to be.
In addition to competing in that “less complex” space with your brand name, an opportunity exists to provide added-value, higher-complexity legal documents which both sides can amend and personalise on an agreement.
Think of a sales and purchase agreement on the disposal of a business – this does need a lot of personalisation but each SPA has the same bare bones and the basic structure.
Services can be offered direct to clients and to other legal firms via a white label supply agreement.
Take advantage of the changing legal tech landscape in 2020 with Sprout
The right technology will provide your legal firm with improved efficiency, lower costs, greater security, and enhanced flexibility as you continue to offer traditional services and you expand your range of services to meet client expectations.
To speak with one of our team about making sure that your IT infrastructure and your cybersecurity is to the highest industry standards, please call Sprout IT today on 020 7036 8530 or email us.