In the Media - Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer: Marketing Legal Services in 2023

All firms gave careful thought to their future, with growth strategies ranging from doubling down on sales and marketing to mergers and acquisitions

With the UK’s longest recession on record looming and further reforms on the cards, it’s a good job those of us working in personal injury are a resilient bunch.

It was not just survival but growth which was the focus for 100 firms interviewed for this year’s First4Lawyers whitepaper: Trust me, I’m a lawyer: Marketing legal services in 2023.

In our eighth annual in-depth report looking at the state of the personal injury market, we spoke to firms about the big issues affecting their business. Unsurprisingly, the government’s Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal came out on top.

Looking ahead, however, it was encouraging to note that all firms had given careful thought to their future, with growth strategies ranging from doubling down on sales and marketing to mergers and acquisitions.

Below are the top five take-aways from our whitepaper, which you can read in full here.


A quarter of firms have exited the whiplash market

The Civil Liability Act 2018—aka the whiplash reforms—continue to have a significant effect with one in four firms that previously handled lower-value road traffic accident (RTA) work confirming they have now stopped taking on cases. More are expected to follow.

The primary reason given is the tighter margins imposed as a result of the reforms that make such cases no longer financially viable. Volumes have also dropped significantly, with the latest figures from the Compensation Recovery Unit suggesting that more than 40% fewer claims will be recorded this year compared to pre-pandemic in 2019.

The OIC portal has also been widely criticised, with the majority of firms agreeing that the technology wasn’t ready to go live and there are still problems. More than 90% of people who bring a claim still instruct a lawyer to help them navigate the portal.

Elena Manukyan, founder of The Personal Injury Solicitor, who was interviewed for our whitepaper, said: “If you look at the guidance, it’s overwhelming for me and I have been doing this for 10 years.”


A fifth of firms have moved into other areas of law

With diminishing returns from the RTA market, one in five firms have diversified into other, more stable areas of law such as conveyancing, family, and wills and probate.

Rachel Stow is managing director of Cheshire-based Thorneycroft Solicitors, which dealt predominantly with lower-value RTA prior to the reforms being introduced last May. The firm made the difficult decision to stop and focus on growing its private client work instead.

“It was so long from announcement to implementation that we must have built more than a dozen models,” she said. “Each one brought us to the same conclusion. We didn’t want to risk the money we had got in waiting to see if the new portal would work.

“It was the hardest thing—to decide not to do something—but I feel we made the right choice.”


M&A activity is on the increase

Three in 10 law firms are considering a potential acquisition or merger over the next 18 months and half of those are currently in talks about or actively seeking a deal.

Jeff Zindani, a merger consultant and managing director of Acquira Professional Services, predicts that the scale and pace of consolidation will continue to increase over the coming months given the economic downturn and other challenges facing the sector.

He added: “Some are laser-focused on the need to scale up. Others, however, remain in denial, hoping that by continuing to do what they have always done—relying on organic growth and putting a bit extra into marketing spend—they will survive.

“Perhaps for some, by luck or by having a particularly resilient niche in the market, this approach may work. For others, sticking with the old ways will not be enough and the clock is ticking.”


Many firms still ignore online reviews

In a world where most of us rarely make a purchase without first checking the reviews, it’s almost inconceivable that more than 60% of law firms don’t read theirs.

Just 37% monitor online reviews—10% obsessively, 21% regularly and 6% occasionally—and only around the same number respond.

It’s surprising that more firms aren’t engaging given the record numbers of people shopping around before choosing a lawyer—almost half according to this year’s tracker survey by the Legal Services Consumer Panel.

Responding well to a critical review can boost your reputation by making you look like a modern and consumer-focused organisation.

As Sam Borrett, director of legal digital marketing agency Legmark, told our 2021 whitepaper: “No company perfectly satisfies all of its customers every time—and that’s OK because people realise this.

“However, the way that you deal with a negative response speaks volumes about the business and can actually have more impact on potential clients than reading pages of positive reviews.

“Properly handling negative reviews also tells you so much more about your business and how you can improve and prevent similar problems in future.”


Websites need more work

Research by Google found people are five times more likely to leave a website if it isn’t mobile-friendly, yet more than 60% of firms we spoke to said theirs wasn’t or didn’t know.

A recent study of the top 100 law firm websites by web designer Shape Works also showed the dangers of not keeping websites up to date. Just one was rated as excellent in terms of page speed for mobile devices, while more than half (54%) were not well optimised for searches. The study found sites “riddled” with broken links—an average of 225 each. Just 13% had none.

A good website requires time and investment to ensure it is giving consumers what they want, and these mistakes could be costing firms dearly when it comes to impressing potential clients.

While research for our whitepaper found much to applaud, it also highlighted the simple checks and changes law firms could be making to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market.

I will be sharing more tips on how to stand out from the crowd in next month’s blog.


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