Anyone involved in management at solicitors’ firms should have read or be in the process of reading Richard Susskind’s book, The End of Lawyers?It provides a well-thought-out view of potential legal services development in the years to come and presents the clear challenges that the legal sector faces. But there are a couple of points to discuss from the marketing management point of view.
First, a small but important point: Prof Susskind often uses the word ‘marketing’ when I believe he means promotions. It’s something I’ve written about in a previous blog entry and I think it is important to make a clear distinction between these two things.
Marketing is a management task everyone should be involved in and understand. Fee-earners need to understand how to account for their time and matters, and marketing is a part of that process. Promotions through advertising, websites and mailings are the end of the marketing process, not the beginning.
A more substantial point to make is around the process of ‘commoditisation’, which is a central part of Susskind’s book. Rather than a linear progression, marketing theory suggests this is circular (see any Philip Kotler book) and an internal management process that customers or clients don't see and, I would suggest, are not primarily concerned with. How interested are you in the cost reduction processes in Jaguar or Mercedes cars, as long as the cars feel and look top quality for the cost to you as a buyer?
The pressure to commoditise the process of services, and therefore reduce costs, is the same element that drives all innovations that differentiate basic products for particular client groups.
To put that in the real world, customers want to find a solution to their problem. They will buy the solution they feel best fits their requirements and is presented in a way they feel comfortable with or at least understand. The solicitors’ firm that successfully commoditises its services reduces its internal costs. That firm can then present those commoditised services as such – that is, very low cost or zero-cost products – via websites or similar. That is a marketing decision. A way forward with that would be to develop helpful ideas on top of the commoditised product, along a continuum of service levels up to a bespoke offering. This offers the ability to make higher profits after the marginal costs.
While many firms worry about being driven out of business by commoditised services, the alternative view can be that this process is an opportunity to reduce costs and develop customer-focused services that clients see as valuable and promote them.
Prof Susskind is correct in his central idea that commoditisation will change the legal services sector in the UK. But the tool of commoditisation is one that everyone can use for their business.