Anyone who has been reading Legal Futures in recent weeks and months will be well aware of the imminent introduction of rules that require lawyers offering certain consumer and business services to publish details of their prices, service, complaints procedure and regulatory status.
Rarely a week seems to go by without rules being approved or consulted on or criticised or praised.
Both the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Council for Licensed Conveyancers’ rules come into force next month, and they have published guidance to go with them. Firms should already be working through what they have to do to comply.
These won’t necessarily be easy conversations, especially when it comes to what you are going to publish on price. It is both good and bad news that the rules allow for a degree of choice in what goes on your website.
I believe that those prepared to bite the bullet and give precise figures, rather than ranges, will win out. Consumers will be far more prepared to pick up the phone if they already know what it will cost for the service – aren’t you the same when you’re a customer? Online calculators make it easy to provide accurate cost information that is tailored to each consumer.
So I would urge firms not to spend time grouching about the new rules. Don’t do the minimum either; see this as a chance to take back control of your own destiny and drive clients directly to your business.
We all know that the market and client expectations are changing. Clients are now accustomed to immediately obtaining most of the information online before deciding who to instruct. They are familiar with price comparison tools and receiving service outside of normal business hours.
If your firm cannot provide the answers at the time they are visiting your website, which will often be after hours or on the weekends, then you will lose new business to the firm that can.
These rules will also mean that people can make meaningful comparisons when looking at different websites.
I know that many lawyers are hesitant about putting their prices online, fearing a race to the bottom once everyone knows what their competitors are charging. But don’t you already know what they charge? Don’t you have your staff mystery shop them?
There are, of course, some clients for whom price is the overwhelming factor in choosing a lawyer. Here again, the new rules should help – firms should no longer be able to use ‘bait pricing’ to draw the client in and only later disclose the true cost.
There are two important research findings to remember here: where consumers do shop around for a lawyer, they generally don’t look at more than two or three; and for most people, experience and service will be more important than product and price.
Indeed, most people correlate a higher price with a better service.
And here’s the opportunity – embrace the transparency agenda, show that you are worth the money. Show that you understand your clients. They want to know what their experience is going to be, and what and when their lawyer is going to communicate with them.
People are not going to search around too long. They want to move house or make a will or get divorced. If you provide everything they need to know, they will pick up the phone.
Not because you’re relying on panel managers or introducers, but because you look like you know what you are doing.
And then it’s up to you to turn them into a client. I’ve never understood those firms that treat new business callers as a pain in the neck – and never forget that there is nobody better to sell your service than you.