Alternative Business Structures: Land of Opportunity

Land of Opportunity

Change in the legal services marketplace is upon us, but Alternative Business Structures can be just as much an opportunity as a threat.

Later this year the time for talking will finally be over.   Ever since the publication of the Legal Services Act four years ago, there have been varying predictions on the scale and impact of Alternative Business Structures (ABS).

Some commentators have painted a bleak picture for current providers with the likes of Tesco, ASDA, Virgin and the AA all queuing up to take advantage of deregulation which will allow nonlegals to either own law firms or hold management positions therein.   However, others have suggested a less dramatic impact on the market with a few well-known consumer brands – banks, estate agents and so on – adding legal services to their existing offerings.

Nobody quite knows what will happen in October (or whenever the individual ABS regulators are given the green light from Parliament to begin the roll out process).   New entrants will appear, but it may be a gradual process spread over 18 / 24 months with some of the UK’s best known consumer brands analysing the marketplace and the successes or otherwise of the early pioneers before taking tentative first steps themselves.

It is also likely that existing sectors will evolve to offer more ‘one-stop shop’ type services, with the likes of claims management companies (CMCs) who, in the personal injury world, having brought the work in themselves may choose to start handling the legal aspect of the claim rather than send it out to a panel of solicitors.

Future challenge

In whatever form, and to what extent, new entrants arrive in the market is still open to debate but the simple fact is that now has to be the time to prepare for increased competition.   Therefore the question that should be foremost in the minds of everybody from a managing partner of a major law firm to a business development manager at a CMC is how will these new entrants compete?   What skills, ideas, initiatives and systems will they bring to what is already a crowded marketplace in the hope of attracting the consumer?

Sitting back and doing nothing is simply not an option as we enter what will be a crossroads in the evolution of the legal services industry.

Firstly, you can bet your bottom dollar that these new entrants or new-look existing providers will have slick Case Management Software systems in place.

The simple reason for this is that they have already identified the commoditised areas of law where process and automation are incredibly important, like personal injury or conveyancing.   By utilising the latest technology they strongly believe they will be able to compete by offering fixed cost packages to the consumer.   They will also be user-friendly and understand the principle of placing the consumer at the heart of the process in order to first attract and then retain their business.

Opportunity knocks

The environment going forward might be tougher, but with challenge comes great opportunity.   Now is the time to analyse what you are doing and ask yourself is it the most effective way of working?   Make the most of your own slick software system and harness the full potential. However, if you’ve realised that the system you have in place isn’t up to the challenge of basics like automating administration, reducing costs and providing transparency for your clients by allowing them to view how cases are progressing (this will certainly be a minimum requirement!) then you need to act fast.

The strongest will survive, so get your ducks in a row and ensure you have good systems and procedures in place. But most importantly ensure you have employee buy-in to what you are trying to achieve. Together, and with the right tools at their fingertips, they will be the ones who can really make a difference to your performance.

With thanks to the original article creator, Steven Bancroft (legal editor at Barker Brooks Media)