One of my recurring themes is how to make the law and lawyers accessible to all.
It is fair to say that that is quite a challenge. We are not the most popular profession in the world by any stretch! Even the good works that we do are either ignored or treated with scepticism –
The practical impact of this is clear from Simon Goldhill’s blog in Legal Futures –
The interesting statistic is that less than 16% of small businesses go to lawyers for legal help. That figure drops to 6.5% for individuals. I’m not sure where this leaves the insurance industry’s compensation culture but that’s another subject. A staggeringly high number say that they do not seek any legal help at all.
There are two important messages here. The first is that there is much that the legal profession needs to do to bridge the gap. The second is that if we do bridge the gap there is a massive potential for new work. So is either of those possible? Now I am an eternal optimist; so am bound to say ‘yes’. But it won’t be easy.
The first thing we need to do is get out there and communicate with the public where they are at. The days are long gone when we could open our doors and make a living our qualifications and reputation. Whatever we think of the recent changes there are brands out that will beat us hands down. Eddie Stobart and Co-Op come to mind. Firms are beginning to use social media but we are still way behind the rest of the world. We need to be aware of its staggering reach. For example LinkedIn tells me that my connections have a potential reach of 10.5m. That is the population of the Czech Republic – so if I moved there I would clean up! One reason why people get into trouble on Twitter is that they do not grasp its reach. Lawyers in other jurisdictions seem to have got the message. Of my 600+ lawyer contacts on Google+ about 95% are from the USA or Australia. Hardly any are from the UK.
I also think it is inevitable that we need to revisit how we charge for what we do. For individuals and small businesses the idea of having to pay an hourly rate over an undefined period of time is a big deterrent and is perceived as a licence to drag work out. For many areas of work fixed fees for identifiable tasks are going to be inevitable. So before that agenda is driven by clients should lawyers be looking themselves at more user friendly ways of charging?
We also need to listen to what the public say to us.
So if you are not a lawyer, here are two questions. What do you think of lawyers? (Be gentle). And what can we do to respond to your needs? (lemming imagery not permitted!!).