We are lawyers. Like many professions and other businesses we are watching a significant debate. It’s like watching a tennis match sometimes. In our particular legal world we are being warned about a coming tsunami of so called “New Law”. In your business it will have some other title but it is the same thing essentially – the effect of new technology. Artificial intelligence (doing legal opinions faster and better than any human), virtual offices (who needs expensive downtown real estate anyway?), internet based client relationships, and so on.
Over on the other side of the metaphorical tennis court, but looking more like a novice playing against Roger Federer, is the school still arguing that all these things are not the significant disruption that some are saying they will be. Although usually acknowledging some of the significant developments that are occurring, this school warns against reacting too quickly or inappropriately and losing focus on your core business. It tends to denounce the other new offerings as being inferior and claims that over time consumers will come back when that quality gap is more apparent. We sympathise with this view because it is partly true and also because it’s comfortable. Change can be time consuming, costly and difficult and who really likes to change if things are going along smoothly enough? So the “don’t rock the boat” approach has a strong appeal.
However there is a problem with this view that seems to put down the impact of New Law. Consumer preferences shift more quickly now than ever before. And even if you just focus harder on the things that you do really well you may be at risk from those who do it cheaper and disrupt your market by offering an alternative. “Successful firms that are disrupted are not complacent or poorly managed. Instead, they continue on the path that brought them to success.” (Joshua Gans, The Disruption Dilemma, 2016.)
So the challenge is this. How do we stop being just spectators, watching the tennis ball go back and forth, and, instead, stay in the game during all this apparent change that is coming?
What’s to stop my competitors or completely new players with their fancy digital marketing or online service taking my business share?
In case you think these are still just smug comments from the side lines, we too are facing the same questions. Law firms and accountancy firms for example are right in the spotlight of that next serve from technology.
We provide advice (judgement/wisdom), we process documents and file them (transactional administration) and we also provide information (data). Google also provides information. And lots of it. And so do many other providers. Our clients can now get answers from the internet to many of the questions they may have previously asked us. They can now download documents that, once, they could only get from us.
Those firms that provide mainly transactional functions or services e.g. form filling and basic accounting are already watching some of this work go elsewhere or being done smarter. The new accounting software known as Xero is a good example of a significant disruptor.
Each industry and business sector will have its own nuanced response. Here are some potential solutions that we are finding either helpful for ourselves or are noticing are working for others particularly amongst some of our more nimble clients.
- Don’t be afraid of exploring the use of digital marketing e.g. improving your website etc. We have found the key is to get connected with a good advisor. Ask around – in our experience skills vary considerably. Find a firm or person who ‘gets you’ i.e. understands you and your business ethos. Look at what other work they have done. Look at ways that you could improve your website both for desktop and mobile devices increasing new client traffic to you. If you are a small business this need not be a daunting task but the days are gone when this can be considered a luxury. It is now an essential investment for many.
- Understand what is happening in your industry in regard to the changes that technology is bringing. Fear itself can become the problem (to misquote Franklin Roosevelt). This is particularly the case when you spend some time reading about the technological changes and what other smaller companies are doing about it. Information is power, or at least it’s a good light switch.
- Think through a good strategy. This is sometimes made a lot easier if you have a business mentor or, if you are a little larger, a professional director or consultant on board who is experienced in strategic planning and change management. For smaller businesses mentoring services may be available in your area – Employer’s Associations, Councils and Chambers of Commerce may provide these services.
- Don’t forget your existing clients. They are your clients for good reason and you also need to focus on what many consider to be the number one fundamental piece of advice. Provide your clients with excellent service and no reason to go elsewhere. This is easier said than done, but small things can make a great difference, such as:
- Having great speed of communication and response times to your client – even if you can’t do the work straight away, at least let them know where they stand;
- Focus on creating a great staff working environment. This can be a slow process but the investment is well worth it. Happy staff want to make clients happy; and
- Don’t do it alone. Join an organisation that is most relevant to your industry and is one where there is good sharing of ideas and advice available. Chambers of Commerce, Employers’ Associations, and Specific Industry Groups etc. are all potential sources of help and information.
You don’t know what you don’t know. We are aware of how daunting all this can be as we are facing the same issues you probably are. In a rapidly changing business environment the best advice we can give is to get the best advice. In our experience those businesses small or large that are prepared to have an open mind and actively seek out good information (rather than just repeat past business practices) are the ones that tend to survive and grow. Those that rely merely on tradition will get overtaken. The difference these days is that the speed at which it happens is quite frightening.
We can help you
At Parry Field Lawyers we have had considerable experience with new businesses and well established ones. We are involved with Start-ups and long held family businesses. Although our involvement has often been with legal issues such as structuring, leases, succession and everything else you would associate with lawyers, much of our involvement has also been well beyond that. We can provide the benefit of our experience in dealing with hundreds of businesses over the years. We accept that costs can be a deterrent to opening up such a discussion and we are always happy to come and have an obligation free discussion with you at your business site so that you can gain some comfort and certainty around what we can provide. In many respects this journey into the new technological age is a shared one and our own experiences can also be of benefit to you. Let’s stay in the game together.