Tuesday, 28 August 2012

What Legal Marketers and Solicitors Firms Could Learn From a Good Cricket Coach and His Talented Pupil

Yesterday I took my 14 year old son Ben up to Leicestershire County Cricket Club to be coached by a former South African test cricketer. My lad is pretty useful himself already, playing at county level for his age group and above and playing a high standard of club cricket. So the raw materials are already there for him to potentially become a very successful cricketer.

Watching this top quality coach at work for just about an hour, was a revelation. First of all he watched my son bowl for about five minutes without saying anything. He was just assessing his client/customer going about his business.He told me that that was all that he was going to do for starters and for those five minutes he didn't say a word.

Then he did have a word with Ben. He told him that he liked what he saw - that my son had a good bowling action and that the basics were all there. What he said was needed, was to work on the final product ie the quality of the ball being delivered to the batsman.

He then 'suggested' that my son might like to practice bowling the ball using a slightly different grip to the one he was currently using. He did not say that what he was presently doing was wrong - just to try the suggested method and see how he felt after trying it out a few times. After a while my son was bowling using the new method and delivering a quality ball time and again. The coach suggested another method to add to his repertoire as well and soon Ben was bowling that delivery as suggested.

He then talked to Ben. He told him that he the coach was not going to send Ben away a wholly improved player after the session - that this was a long term project and that he would have to go away with a few new ideas, try them repeatedly and often and see which worked best for him and to keep practising those that he felt comfortable with. He also spent some time talking to him about how to bowl to batsmen who were intent on handling his bowling in different ways - some batsmen would be intent on just blocking him out, so a certain approach was needed to tempt them into hitting out at him to see if the batsman would make an error and get out. Some batmen would be intent on trying to put him off by attacking his bowling - again a different approach and a cool head would be needed with this type of player.

He finished off by telling Ben that what was needed above all was for him to practice, practice and practice - that he had all the right ingredients and by trying a few new ideas and with lots of practice he would achieve his goal of playing cricket at a higher and higher level (England Test team and a nice tour to Australia for Mum and Dad would go down well son!!)

What has this got to do with legal marketing, you might well ask?

Well it occurred to me that the approach that the coach adopted with my son in this session was precisely what a good legal marketing consultant should be adopting with a new client.

First of all he observed Ben bowling without making any comment. He did not dive straight in and tell Ben what he should be doing without first seeing how he went about his business of bowling in the first place.
Equally applicable to legal marketing, I would suggest. A good marketing consultant will not want to make suggestions that the client should try this or that marketing method without first observing how the client goes about his business on a day to day basis for a while initially. It might be that as with Ben, all the raw ingredients are there in the first place and that there is a really good base there from which to add some new ideas to ultimately achieve really good results. Having added those new ideas and methods to the repertoire, then what is needed is to keep on working at those good practices to achieve sustainable long term results, which in the legal example is not to bag loads of wickets, but to bag loads of new clients.

Then the coach went on to tell Ben that after the coaching session was finished yesterday he was not going to go away and suddenly become a superstar overnight - he would have to go away, practice the new methods, find out which worked best for him and assimilate them gradually into his game by constantly practising.

Equally once a good legal marketing consultant has completed the brief that he has been contracted to deliver to a firm of lawyers, it doesn't mean that a magic wand has been waved, resulting in floods of new clients ever more without the firm carrying on practising the new marketing methods that they have been shown by the consultant. First of all they need to find out which methods work for them and then to carry on working on putting those methods into practice on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, to ensure that long term results are achieved. Of course just as Ben would benefit from further follow up sessions with the coach, equally the solicitors firm could well benefit from some follow up work from the legal marketing consultant.

When the coach suggested that different approaches might be needed in bowling to different types of batsmen, it reminded me that firms of solicitors need to be flexible in their approach to dealing with and marketing to different types of potential clients. Social Media Marketing might play a big part in attracting a certain potential client base, but have little or no part to play with another where direct marketing might be necessary  For instance I have noticed that many reasonably sized insurance brokers have little or no web presence, let alone have Twitter or Facebook pages - perhaps if brokers are your  potential client target market then a direct campaign using email or direct snail mail marketing might be a better option.

Finally just as the coach told Ben that he needed to 'practice, practice and practice' so too does the law firm - just keep on doing what has been suggested over and over again - try different methods - as long as the product is sound. The maxim 'do the right things and the right things will happen' always seems to work in the long run.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Referral Fee Ban Part II

When I set up my own RTA/PI solicitors practice back in 1994 there were no such things as referral fees. To be honest I am probably wearing 'rose tinted' spectacles a little in saying that - I am sure they did exist but if they did, they were pretty much underground and passed by way of brown paper envelopes.

I was indeed fortunate to set up the practice at a time when it was quite a simple task - PI Insurance was relatively easy to come by for Sole Practitioners and with a rented office, a couple of desks and chairs, a computer, a printer, and some stationery, away I went (with no little help from Mrs Spin King I must add). No such thing as COLP's and COFA's or indeed ABS's -the only initials that you needed to know were IKEA - so that you could go and buy a nice bit of Scandianvian office furniture!

What was also needed was a bit of confidence to walk into insurance brokers, legal expense companies and local car body repairers and persuade them to refer to the new firm their customers in the event of their suffering a non fault accident - and then, (drum roll) the main ingredient from then on was 'To Provide a Top Class Service'!

Ah, can we remember those days when referrers wanted nothing more from a PI solicitor than for them to provide a good service to their clients, which in turn would result in a satisfied customer for the referrer and the likelihood or repeat business and further business from recommendations? Isn't that just good business practice and how businesses are meant to become successful?

As our good name grew, so did our case load. Happy days. Then referral fees started to surface. I am not sure whether this was solicitor led or referrer led to be honest. I do recall that certain solicitors practices seemed to be at the forefront of fee paying - usually wrapped up as some kind of marketing fee, for it was to be a few years before referral fees were legitimised. Finally they were officially recognised and the 'claims industry' went into overdrive. There have been some horrible excesses - with huge amounts of cash changing hands and both solicitors and claims management companies trying to outbid their rivals - all simply for the passing on of a PI, with no other service included, other than that of farming claims.

So, and regular readers of this blog might be surprised to read this, I am a supporter of the referral fee ban. Indeed I would have preferred that the original plans to criminalise the passing of referral fees for PI's had been pursued. Properly done that should have seen an end to the passing of money for the referral of claims. If all the governments efforts had been focused on passing well drafted legislation, with proper enforcement to back it up, that would have gone a long way to seeing an end to the practice and would have obviated the need for much of the further reform proposed, which in turn would have maintained a balance between genuine claimants with claims to pursue and the insurers on the other side. The decent claims management companies who have other services to provide, such as hire and repair, would have had to re-adjust but with proper planning would have survived and indeed prospered, and for solicitors they would have had to learn how to market themselves, as the market opened up with the demise of many of those who simply acted as PI middle men.

However, instead the legislature have opted against criminalisation and as stated in my last blog post they have passed the policing duties over to the SRA who have now been tasked with coming up with a strategy for ensuring that the ban is enforced. We have yet to see how well that policing is enforced. I do fear that there are those claims companies and solicitors who will already be thinking of ways around the ban, rather than accepting it and looking to change their models. It is, though, to be hoped that it is rigorously enforced and that those who flout the law and are caught out, are severely dealt with. Then, there is just a possibility  that there will be a return to the concept of those  that provide the best service prospering in a difficult market, rather than those that pay the most for claims or that offer cash or other incentives to claimants, doing so.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Referral Fee Ban & The SRA - The Reluctant Police Force

An article in the Law Society Gazette today by John Hyde "SRA Ponders Policing of Referral Fee Ban" http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/sra-ponders-policing-referral-fee-ban confirms to me that the SRA have been landed with the role of an unwilling police force to deal with the ban which is to come into effect in just over 7 months.

According to Hyde, the Authority "will set out within weeks how it intends to police the forthcoming ban on referral fees." 'Within weeks' - really? Sorry, for some reason 'My SRA' keeps coming to mind. What a wonderfully thought out and executed concept that was. Perhaps first the SRA will have to have a consultation period of 3 months to consider what is meant by a 'few weeks'. Then after that it might come to the conclusion that 'a few weeks' actually means about 12 months - and even then give or take another 12 months either way - well not either way - just one way. So make that 2 years. Perhaps then we should add in some fancy online software to help with the policing. Add 12 months for that to be implemented and then - oops - it's crashed.

After that, according to the article, the Authority will 'draw up a formal policy position in advance of a 12 week consultation starting this autumn.' '12 weeks'? Don't even let me start going there. Perhaps the idea is to just send us all mad. I can see it now - the ambulances collecting us all to be dragged off screaming and shouting  to the 'Home for Bewildered Claimant Solicitors and CMC Proprietors' (with segregated wards to ensure that no referral fees can be passed on in the exercise yard).

I jest merely - well partly.

The SRA has been given the legal equivalent of a 'hospital pass' in rugby or football. The only alternative was for the 'Ministry of Silly Claims' to become involved and of course the government just wants to lay down the law, in a fashion. It doesn't want to have the job of enforcing it's hotchpot of legislation - and who can blame it?

Anyway once this has all been smoothly implemented - whatever is being implemented, we then only have to wait on the announcement on the Small Claims Track Limit for Personal Injury, the slashing of portal fees, etc, etc. Not to worry - we've got all of 7 and a bit months for this to get sorted.

Anyway at the end of the tunnel there is light - that pot of gold called the "ABS." Why some 15 have been authorised, don't you know - or is it 20? I really don't know. To be honest I've lost the will. Apparently there is now something called the "ABS rush." Now that does sound interesting. Is it a form of legal high? Better be on the safe side. "Pass the port Miss Moneypenny - and make mine a double."