How to market a solicitor’s firm: last time we met Christian we talked to him about why he became self-employed, this time we quiz him about building a client base and his views on how Covid has changed his sector of law work.
When you became self-employed did you have clients to take with you?
Being a solicitor you are heavily regulated, but also within firms you have a contract in which I have restricted covenants in place and I am unable to approach any current clients for up to 2 years.
But what I found is that people naturally came searching for me: I had a client contact me from London, who I had written a Will for when I worked at a firm three firms back. Because I did a good job, they searched for me and I was able to help them out again.
Sometimes you don’t have to worry about the current client base that you are leaving and you have to somewhat start from scratch. I haven’t found that a bad thing, you’ve got to be hungry for it. If anything, if you’re going self-employed you’ve naturally got that energy to build those connections and make those contacts.
Were you worried about not having enough clients?
One of the biggest deciding factors of me going self-employed was that I had sufficient experience behind me. Before I left my last firm, I was head of Private Client and I had built the client base all by myself. This was a light bulb moment – if I can do this for them [the firm] – then I can do this for myself.
It is daunting, because you just don’t know whether you can continue attracting clients and you haven’t got the clout behind you of an established name or the contacts within the firm you are leaving. But, although it’s daunting, I got to the point of ‘I know what I’m talking about’ and I think the biggest thing I try to convey to a client is: if you’ve understand what I’m talking about and I’ve put it into plain English then that’s half the job.
There are many people I come across in my profession where the client doesn’t know what they are signing and doesn’t fully understand what they have in front of them, so it’s sometimes forced on them. Unfortunately, there is an element of work that I do, Will writing for example, that is actually an unregulated practice. The person on the street who needs the Will, without asking the right questions, wouldn’t understand whether this person has the right experience.
I have many years of experience working in very established firms and I feel comfortable I can offer options to client. Unfortunately, I have seen it in the past where people are forced down a route because there’s a monetary incentive by the Will writer – Commission-based sales people are involved and it’s not good especially when you are dealing with such a sensitive subject.
Can you explain your two elements of work?
In my head I think of the locum side as one arm of what I do, in which I help firms who need my expertise and this is a contract for maybe 3-6months part time. The other arm is my direct client work in which I am using the Setfords umbrella. The work I get through Setfords is from the networking group that I go to, as well as referrals from existing solicitors or sometimes even clients.
You currently work under the Setfords umbrella, can you explain what Setfords are:
I’ve got my company which is ACM Law LTD. ACM law works under the Setfords umbrella, in the sense that they will deal with the compliance side and give me the support that I need in order to
deal with my clients. But I have to, 1: sacrifice an element of the money I charge my clients and, 2: it’s under the Setfords umbrella so my company never gets mentioned or shown on the paperwork to the client. I am promoting or selling the services of Setfords solicitors.
There are over 300consultants across the UK who are all self-employed, whether we’re acting as a sole trader or as a limited company, Setfords is the umbrella that we use so we can be reassured that those compliance regulation elements are satisfied. It also means we’ve got that admin support and secretarial support. Moreover, we’re in contact with that network of 300 consultants with maybe 50 areas of law between us which means we can support each other.
I have 5-6 conveyancers locally to me and we’ve all had dealings with each other in past positions, then we’ve all come under Setfords and because we know the quality of each other’s work we’re all happy to refer our clients on to one another and it naturally builds business.
Tell me about your networking group, how did you find a group and how does it work for you?
There’s one networking group that I’m part of, BNI, in Tetbury. Some networking groups have a bad reputation, but I think it’s all about who in the group you meet and speak with. Luckily for me, I was asked by a financial advisor whom I’d had previous dealings with, they wanted me to come along, not as the firm I was with, but as myself. I was a bit unsure at first, but I’d just decided to go self- employed and needed to start bringing work in, so had to be open to networking.
It’s not been easy getting money this way, because it takes an awful lot of time. It’s all about the confidence from the referrer. But I understand that and I wouldn’t want just any individual dealing
with my clients either. It works both ways: I have to feel comfortable to who I refer to my clients. I might be referring my client to someone and if they do a bad job, it’s going to look bad on me too.
It’s about being slightly tentative that they are the right fit & you don’t know until you’ve actually experienced it.
I earned some from networking in the first year, I’ve earned more in the second year, so it’s naturally increasing because others are more comfortable referring to me as they know more about the
quality of my work, there is trust. Suddenly, you have these pockets of people that you naturally have referrals from. For example, the holy trinity of the accountant, an IFA, and a solicitor might have one client but they might need service from all these people.
You mentioned the first year being tricky, but that was also Covid year…
Yes, I had 6 months and then Covid hit. I went self-employed in October 2019 – working hard, networking, building up all those links & relationships, seeing people.
I was finding two different types of client; one ready to do the Will or lasting Power of Attorney, and the other wanting a cursory glance of what is needed but then the job was put on the back burner. Covid suddenly swayed those people who were sitting on the fence.
When Covid hit I had 2 – 2.5 months of solid work from people I had previously met. But my biggest worry was; where’s the future work coming from? I’m not able to get out and network and that’s how I was getting the work in to start with. Everyone’s been affected but how do I survive?
During the summer period I was busy, but I didn’t know what was going to happen so I decide to do some part-time locuming. My gut reaction was to do a 6-month stint, fill up the coffers and
emergency funds to make sure financially I felt comfortable. I wasn’t going to give up on being self- employed and dealing with my own clients, but I was conscious about where the money was going to come from. With my remote working set up I was accustomed to working from home so I had a head start. With firms being so busy, they were inundated; they were experiencing what I was but had that existing client base as well, so locums were in demand.
I have found, however, that it is worth continuing with some locum work. I’m interacting with other solicitors and I am getting a good name for myself but also I’m still able to pick up things and offer advice according to my knowledge. It’s rewarding being able to help out other solicitors and when you’re working by yourself it’s just you, there’s no one to bounce ideas off so I’m getting a better balance.
So do you foresee work life returning to normal or permanent changes?
During Covid, Zoom was a godsend. It allowed me to access clients all over England, Wales and sometimes even abroad. It has also allowed me to deal with clients that maybe would not have
previously felt comfortable using such technology. People aren’t afraid of technology anymore, the grandparents who may have had an issue are now embracing it and that’s a big clientele for me.
Going forward it’s all about the client care – my element of law. And client care goes the extra mile, it’s all about making sure the client knows what’s going on, is comfortable with what’s going on and trying to overcome any concerns they have whether that’s face to face, in an office or in their own home. The video elements have given some scope for future change, but the reality is if you make sure things are done that aren’t so alien to a client, so as normal as they possibly can be, it gives them that reassurance.
There will always be that need for a high street practice but I doubt whether that’s to a pre-Covid capacity. I think now, there will always be an element of remote working. The technology side has allowed a lot more interactions from a distance. For example, networking groups, whereas before you needed to live in a certain vicinity to then appear once a week at the same place, now it’s opened up. You can easily network with people who live in a much wider radius. And it works.
Thank you Christian for your insights and answers over course of these two blogs.
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