Monday 15 February 2010

The future of small IP firms

Having just posted a blog on the Legal Services Act 2007 - specifically, the changes that a deregulated legal industry might bring about for our law practices, I remembered that Richard Susskind, at a recent interview which was broadcast at the Computers & Law conference last year, predicted a rosy future for small specialist law firms. In his view clients perceive value in expertise, and are happy to pay for it, but see less benefit in the work done for them at more junior levels which tend to be at expensive hourly charge rates.

If anyone knows the interview I am referring to, or knows more about Richard Susskind’s thoughts on this or, indeed, has their own views on this, I would love to hear your comments.

Azrights is focused on innovation, in that if there is one sector of the legal market I would like to better satisfy it is what Richard Susskind describes as the “latent market”. Finding cost effective solutions appeals because the latent market is by far the largest market, and not one that is overcrowded, in terms of law firms chasing after it.

Reducing reliance on one to one consultancy model.

One very simple way we are reducing reliance on the one to one consultancy model is by developing products. We produced one on SEO recently, and are following with two more next month: one on commissioning a website, and the other on website compliance.

Unlike the businesses selling contract templates we aim to also educate about the surrounding commercial context. So our products give extensive video tutorial explanations about the pitfalls and issues to be aware of before engaging given services. We also provide a general interest explanation about contracts in general, as well as talking about the particular contract template that is the subject of the product. We cover key issues such as how it is not necessary to sign a document to be bound in contract, what happens if you think you are agreeing terms when in law your contract is already formed, the purpose of contracts, when long legalistic contract templates may be appropriate and when they are not, how one sided contracts are based on the assumption that the parties will negotiate the terms, which may be inappropriate for small businesses who expect to just sign the document that is placed before them, etc etc.

Use of multi media

Another way in which we are innovating, is through use of multimedia to service our existing clients. For example, during trade mark registration, we often find that despite explaining legal principles in simple plain English letters, some of our trade mark clients either do not read the letters closely enough, or for some other reason do not grasp key issues about the law and procedure.

When time is money, the need to re-explain points to lots of different people, becomes expensive. But on the other hand, clients who purchase a fixed price trade mark registration service might take a dim view if we were to try charging them for extra time just to have something explained to them so they can provide further instructions, such as about how many classes they will proceed with, for example.
So, for us, it was a logical step to deliver some of our explanations by video and podcast. This works because it takes far less time to produce one podcast or video than to explain something ten, twenty or more times – or worse still, have confused clients who do not really feel they received an adequate explanation.

As people differ, it stands to reason that some will be more receptive to receiving information through the spoken word than through the written form. So, a fairly easy change in fact revolutionises legal services, because it reduces the need for one to one consultancy time, while delivering more value to the client.

I would love to hear what others think about the issues I have raised here, and on my own blog, and how they are responding to the future.


  1. These techniques are interesting and innovative and I am sure we will see a lot of them on "Tesco law" sites. Perhaps you should go into product development for them. Your reseach and experience should be very marketable.
    From my perspective the selling point for a SOLO IP practitioner is that I offer my personal expertise and knowledge and I refer those who want automated services that are as cheap as chips to others or indeed to the UK IPO itself

  2. Thanks for your comments. I too offer personal expertise and traditional legal services. However, I also try to have an alternative offering at lower prices. For example, we have 4 different price options for trade marks. This is perhaps something on which those who work with brands might have views on - whether you have to stick to just one price point or can have a range of different offerings....

  3. Wonderful to find a law firm innovating so much. I wrote just yesterday about fallout of the Legal Services Act (see and I agree that the middle market will be hit hardest. Four or Five big players will emerge over the course of about 10 years that will dominate the retail market. There will be many more niche players than today I believe, as people laid off from those mid-market firms start their own specialist practices. One thing is for sure - the future will not be boring!


  4. It has certainly been the case that over the last 5 years it has been niche practices that have been created by those of us in practice areas that do not match the marketing consultant's criteria for BIG LAW. Perhaps though there may be more consolidation for those services where consumers prefer to use a factory product

  5. My view is that as a sole practitioner it is important to focus on one's core client base, and not get too side-tracked by speculative marketing of new types of service. Also, I feel that general trends in the market, whilst interesting, may or may not affect an individual small firm. One new client or one major piece of work can transform one's commercial outlook.

    Providing free information may be good for your business, but alternatively it may reduce your income if clients think they can do it themselves with your helpful information. I am finding that some of my clients are becoming more sophisticated over time (assisted by our published precedents and text books) and are using our services less; we are having to engage with newer, less sophisticated clients.

  6. Good points Mark. I want to look for techniques to get the word out to more sophisticated clients that looking for direct access to real specialists is best practice. Looking for the Bar to show the way

  7. Thanks for your comment Mark. Very interesting. Google has a lot to do with the wealth of free information available out there! The way I see it, some clients will want to do their own legal work, so if Azrights provide them with the means to do so more quickly and efficiently then some of them may prefer our products and offerings to hunting down the free information for themselves, with all the limitations that that option gives rise to, particularly the time it takes - and businesses are generally time starved. However, there are others who will not be at all inclined to do the work themselves so our offering of DIY products will not appeal to them, and they will continue to instruct us to do the work for them.
    Anyone can do anything themselves if they want to. It's not just legal work that people will opt to do themselves rather than using professionals.
    For me I'm in business to create something scalable and potentially financially rewarding if I can manage it. I would not just want to provide consultancy type services for ever, although I'll be happy to settle for that if my other projects don't succeed in the way I hope they will.

  8. Shireen, my approach to creating something scalable is to build up the consultancy practice by bringing people on, so that I cease to be a sole practitioner. I have tried free and commoditised services on a small scale and they have been a flop; to make standard services actually earn me a living, I think they would require much more risk capital than I want to invest. So I will stick with being a specialist, consultancy-style operation for the time being.

  9. Mark Anderson wrote:
    "Providing free information may be good for your business, but alternatively it may reduce your income if clients think they can do it themselves with your helpful information. "

    Those who want to do it themselves, will do it themselves with or without your information. The nature of the Internet is that someone else will provide them enough information to DIY if that is their inclination. By putting out your own information you are planting a seed in their mind so that when they get into a mess, or stuck, they will come back to you.

    I wrote about how those of us in the IT industry have been competing with FREE offerings effectively, and implications for legal services in "The Legal Sector and FREE"
    Would be interested in any comments/thoughts you have on that.

    Shireen - I think you have it spot on with your approach. :)