Is better law firm branding the key to beating Tesco's law?

Branding has never been a real issue in the legal profession. Sure, there are a number of top (usually London based) firms which are widely known in business or celebrity circles, and the top five in the so-called Magic Circle of firms. Then there are more local clutches of firms which might have a number of offices around a certain area. The name, or brand, may therefore carry some authority in that area, but further afield, the name means nothing. The advent of the so called Tesco law, which arrives in October this year, may change that. Once consumers are able to buy legal services from established brands they know and trust, like Tesco or Co-op for instance, for some law firms, a way of competing will be to join together under a brand name, share a similar ethos, business model and pricing structure, and look to establish themselves as a national brand. Once customers are aware of them and see the name in the high street wherever they are, from London to Manchester to Bristol, the hope is that the name will instil confidence and enable these firms to tackle the likes of Tesco head on rather than suffering from increased competition from big household names against whom they feel they cannot compete. This is one way of tackling the issue, and one being adopted by a new chain of law firms, as reported here. However, I do not feel this is necessarily taking the right approach. There is no doubt that traditional firms need to react to the forthcoming changes to give themselves the best chance of surviving. In all honesty, if high street firms haven't yet instigated changes, they may be reacting a little too late and leave themselves vulnerable. However, circling the wagons and seeking strength in numbers rather than actually offering a better service that people cannot get from elsewhere seems to me to be selling ourselves short. Specialisms are the way forward. Rather than a general firm offering a bit of conveyancing, a bit of divorce, and bit of will-writing etc, specialise. Have real experts in a particular field offering fantastic customer service who build a relationship with clients. That is what none of the new operators exploiting the Legal Services Act will be able to do. Offer quality with the emphasis on real quality rather than perhaps simply coming up with a brand that suggests the same yet carrying on with traditional practices behind the scenes and paying to be part of a bigger gang. The advent of a national law firm brand may be a game changer as has been suggested, but it is not necessarily a winning change. Andrew Woolley Family lawyer

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