Stephensons: "First4Lawyers brought added value to our own lead generation work"

Stephensons is an award-winning top 150 law firm with more than 450 staff based in offices across the country, with revenues of around £19m.

The firm is a multi-service practice providing legal services to individuals, businesses and the public sector, and wins recognition regularly from awards programmes across its wide range of expertise.

As well as its full range of legal services, Stephensons is one of the top three firms in terms of volume of legal aid work and, as an alternative business structure (ABS), it operates a 45-seat call centre in Wigan handling enquiries for all areas of legal business.

PI and clinical negligence combined are a big part of the firm’s litigation work which, including legal expenses insurance work, represents 28% of the firm’s total revenue.

But clinical negligence at Stephensons is a particularly strong specialism, and the firm has its own department with a team of over 10 specialist solicitors, and four medical professionals. It was for claim enquiries of this type of case that the firm signed up with First4Lawyers.

Mark Fenning, Associate Solicitor and Business Development Manager says:

"We have our own in-house team for PR and marketing, and a target for raising our own profile, as there is an advantage to building our own brand. However, we learned very quickly that your spend as an individual firm can be burned up very quickly by big marketing campaigns like national TV. 

“We had a need for a more regular flow of clinical negligence work, and we realised that this was where the ‘marketing collective’ model of First4Lawyers would have a real benefit,” he says.

Not only that, but since April 2013, new regulations under LASPO have squeezed the profitability of personal injury litigation-related work, and so affected marketing budgets.

Mark tells us: "We were hit by a perfect storm that squeezed profitability, while we were also facing new types of ABS competitors who were used to working on tighter margins than lawyers.”

So First4Lawyers were a perfect choice: "For us, they have a great reputation and I was hearing glowing reports from people we know on their panel.

"It’s difficult for lawyers themselves to create a public brand, whereas First4Lawyers have a brand that the public recognises,” he says.

The ethical value of the First4Lawyers brand was crucial: "It’s very important to us, and we value reputation. We were also very impressed with their compliance pack, and they even helped us with our own compliance. The solicitors’ code of conduct is very strict on the sourcing of work and First4Lawyers pass with flying colours.”

So Stephensons joined the panel, and the impact was immediate: "It created a steadier flow of clinical negligence work, which gave us a sense of stability."

Stability was particularly important, due to this area of legal work being more difficult and complex than more standard PI work.

In particular, with high disbursement costs up front, "a high failure rate from poor quality cases in clinical negligence work can impact severely on your profitability", Mark explains.

The extra stability means "we can then project accordingly, and this allows us to grow.”

Thankfully, First4Lawyers has provided an expert partner for the firm to work with.

Mark continues:  "With clinical negligence you need people who know what they’re doing, and First4Lawyers has the necessary appreciation and knowledge to deal with enquiries in this area."

Once First4Lawyers’ own experts pass on a lead, the firm’s own risk assessment panel - manned by both lawyers and professional medical staff – carry out a final assessment.

Conversion rates for clinical negligence claims are low, compared with standard PI – even when coming through the accurate filtering that First4Lawyers provides. Rates for claims from First4Lawyers average around 27-29%. However, Mark says that this still compares well with other sources.

The future of clinical negligence work looks positive and is becoming increasingly attractive to traditional PI firms seeking to expand into the ‘higher risk, higher reward’ field of clinical negligence.

"The amount of quality clinical negligence work out there is going to maintain a similar level, but the difference is that there is a growing awareness among consumers of their right to bring a claim. That’s the result of marketing", Mark says.

However, he warns: "There is also a risk for the more unwary PI firms that clinical negligence work could put themselves in trouble from a cash flow perspective, especially if they have poor quality claims. It’s the quickest way to put yourself out of business."

On that basis, those firms looking to build their own clinical negligence practices might do well to consider working with First4Lawyers.


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