The drive to deliver legal services efficiently has given rise to an Aladdin’s Cave of weird and wonderful applications. For all firms, it can be a challenge to get partners and clients to understand and appreciate fully the possibilities this new treasure can offer. Grahame Jones, of brand consultants Soukias Jones, has worked with firms to address this communications challenge. Here, he reviews a variety of approaches to positioning and branding a “new law” offering.
‘Parker’ is the friendly name for NRF Transform’s range of chatbots. As fans of Thunderbirds will remember, the name belongs to Lady Penelope’s helpful butler and chauffeur (“You rang, m’lady?”). For a chatbot ready to serve, it’s apposite and tongue-in-cheek, joining other personalised tools including RockHopper (Lewis Silkin) and Lauri (Keoghs).
Both have names quirky enough to disarm hard-nosed buyers, yet they’re in the minority. Most firms are avoiding the softer touch and opting for technical names for their bespoke digital tools, such as Crtl Transfer (Simmons & Simmons) and The EBA Outsourcing Solution (Hogan Lovells). Others go for something more abstract (TOKO), at DLA Piper. Impregnable, safer, and less compelling?
As the march of technology in law spawns an ever-growing ecosystem of applications, platforms, solutions, products and services, firms face growing challenges for communication. Most are struggling to see clearly how components align and synergise, how they support existing services, and how new developments can benefit the client – at the same time warding off the Big Four and Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs).
Legal tech for example, tends to percolate upwards from practice and sector groups. As solutions rise upward and create offshoots, firms can end up with a smorgasbord of oddly named products and applications, lacking a brand structure to give meaning. The result? A fall in partner – and client – engagement.
Additionally, density is increasing in the layers of extra services covering legal operations, managed services, consulting, incubators, contact lawyering and other ‘alternative’ capabilities.
In the face of fast-moving, continuous change, firms’ marketing and brand teams face a substantial challenge to assemble the parts in a structured, easy-to-understand way. Many have responded by reengineering their positioning and messages. Addleshaw Goddard, Clifford Chance, Pinsent Masons and TLT all recalibrated their New Law offerings last year, for example.
I say “new law”. Of course, only Ashurst and Norton Rose Fulbright (within the top 50 UK law firms) actually use the term. ‘Innovation’, sorely overused, remains a popular overarching descriptor for delivery, digital, legal managed services, legal ops consulting, and flexible resourcing phrase (Clifford Chance, Linklaters). Those with more active propositions include Freshfields (Connected Innovation), Allen & Overy (Advanced Delivery) and Addleshaw Goddard (Law, Plus More).
Our report ‘Joining the Journey: How law firms branding their tech and innovation have progressed in 2020’ found that most firms are positioning themselves under the wing of the masterbrand to make cross-selling easier and take advantage of established quality reputations. Outliers include Konexo (Eversheds Sutherland) and Condor (Fieldfisher), but most keep close to the corporate brand, albeit using a sub-brand to separate delivery from expertise (NRF Transform and Ashurst Advance are examples). This pattern hasn’t altered much since mid-2020.
Things are changing. And fast. In five years’ time, the landscape could look quite different. As firms struggle to balance the LLP model with the opposing demands of New Law (culture, expertise, leadership, and funding), they might choose to spin out stand-alone New Law brands that can compete more freely in the market.
For now, though, most firms are trying to capitalise on existing offerings and make them work much harder to secure the commitment of partners. Along the way, this will transform the way firms do business.
Digital is playing its part in this as firms experiment with and implement new tech: for example helping clients to onboard new systems for document creation (as part of a legal ops project, for example), or creating tech products and selling them to existing clients.
Within the “new law” mix, digital is a game changer. A recent piece of thought leadership from the FT ‘The Changing Face of Professional Services’ reported that 65% of respondents to a survey said that in selecting a firm to use, digital service delivery is one of the most important factors they would consider.
Digital service delivery covers everything from the basic client engagement tools (Office 365, Teams, Dropbox, etc) right through to bespoke tools. Customised and named, these tools can provide clients with easy-to-use, cost-effective solutions for commoditised work. New tools are emerging all the time: some are used widely, others less so. An effective product architecture is vital for guiding partners and clients through the tech toolkit. Otherwise, levels of uptake may remain patchy.
No area is immune to digital opportunity. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is one. ESG is an umbrella term covering a puzzle of regulations that affect clients in different ways. It’s also a key strategic issue.
Before a firm can give legal advice on risks and opportunities, it needs related EDG data to be available in a usable form. That’s a perfect digital opportunity. In combining tech solutions, legal advice, and experience in legal operations to source and sift complex data sets, digital technologies and applications eliminate much of the heavy lifting.
A handful of firms have risen to the challenge and developed bespoke ESG digital tools. Simmons & Simmons has ESG Conquest and ESG Scope, while Ashurst has ESG Ready. More will follow. Other firms have gone down the tech incubator route, providing free legal support to businesses that focus on addressing ESG issues. RPC Tectonic is RPC’s legal accelerator programme for technology businesses that address environmental ESG-related issues. Simmons & Simmons is providing new start-ups with £100,000 in free legal support if they focus on addressing the climate emergency.
The move to digitise ESG and surround it with other ‘alternative’ services will add pressure for firms to rationalise their platforms of products, services, and solutions. At the heart of any engagement plan, especially plans to engage partners, lies the need to structure “new law” (or parts of it) to ensure consistency and coherence. Component parts must work together, with relationships (between parts and with the firm itself) making good sense (from the perspective of clients) for Partners to get on board. After all, they are the ones who will sell and advocate for New Law solutions.
The first step is to create a compelling story for “new law” and sell this not just to partners but also across the firm. Not only should this be integral to the strategy for building a culture committed to innovation, but – more specifically – it can give partners the insights they need to explore (and sell) an Aladdin’s Cave of New Law treasure.
(copy of article published by PSMG in its magazine ‘Centrum’, February, 2022)