It’s harder than ever to differentiate yourself as a law firm – so when someone comes along and does something genuinely different, you sit up and listen. Disrupting law as we know it is the mission of Merlie Calvert and Golda Aheto-Cudjoe of LHS Solicitors, so I went to chat to them about what makes them such enfants terribles.
“The standard approach for law firms contemplating change is to look at what your competition is doing and to ask yourself which of these do we want to be like? That just didn’t work for us at all”, says Merlie, “as we didn’t want to be like every other law firm, quite the opposite. We wanted to be far more like consumer and retail brands. When we started out, we talked to agencies and consultants to see if they could help us and we got frustrated quite fast, as everyone we spoke with wanted to shoehorn us into a model they’d already developed - which was for a traditional professional services firm of some description. So we ended up going it alone and in fact, that worked out so much better.”
Instead, when launching their legal services for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) Merlie and Golda find more affinity with other disruptors in very different industries. Their role models include Deliveroo, Netflix, Nespresso, and even Passle.
What makes these disruptors so successful? “They looked at what their customers really wanted and where their pain point is and they developed real solutions”, says Merlie. “Disruptors don’t talk about what they know or what other people are doing, they put themselves in the client’s shoes and see what their world needs to look like and then they make that happen.”
Looking through their customers’ eyes meant rethinking their entire strategy, starting with their website: “it’s all about you from the minute you arrive on the site. We give you answers very quickly”, says Merlie, “and that’s not what you get on any other law website. Most law firm sites are all about them and you’re no closer to finding the solution that you want. There’s a real fear amongst the legal profession of giving information away - a fear that people will confuse helpful, contextual information with legal advice and then not feel the need to instruct you to help them, which is, to my mind, utter nonsense. It should be about empowering people to make a fully informed decision about how their enquiries would get resolved if you’re the person they choose. And obviously you want them to conclude that things will turn out a lot better with you so that they’ll want to pick you when they need legal help. Giving information is like giving a free sample or a tester, it’s saying ‘this is what your world looks like with us in it’”. As Golda puts it, “we all like to be informed and to have a choice and when we get that experience and it’s a good one, we remember who gave it to us and we choose to go back to them”.
Perhaps what makes LHS so unique is the way they see themselves, “increasingly less of a law firm, and more of a tech business that provides a variety of different legal solutions. You choose them, we serve them up”. For example, their online self-help community, recently re-branded and re-launched as elXtr, is one that eradicates the need for clock-watching and hourly-rates and commits far more investment in developing long-term relationships with SMEs as their go-to resource for ‘all things legal’. They have exciting developments underway for this ‘DIY’ service especially. It will also be publicly available later this year.
LHS have started using Passle too on elXtr, with news, technical updates and blog-style content created by their legal experts rather than their marketing team. Their key focus is to create journalistic content that’s relevant to their audience and unlike the rest of the site, which is currently a closed subscriber arrangement, the news section is freely accessible to anyone.
“It’s not about promoting us or any hard sell. It’s about sharing content with our community that we believe is relevant, engaging and gives them more value – like tips, clarifications, links to free resources. A reader should know within seconds whether the content is relevant to them”, says Merlie, “and if it is, what they need to do about it. Passle has been an absolutely brilliant tool for getting us all comfortable in a very short amount of time with creating real journalistic quality content and making sure we all address what we call the ‘so-what?’ factor – that’s something I ask myself on a constant basis. It used to happen to me all the time as an in-house lawyer. You get to the end of something someone has sent you and you ask yourself, ‘ok, and?’ Are you just spamming me in the hope it might be relevant, or trying to impress me with your writing skills? Journalists nail it every time. Passle’s a fantastic training tool for writing, they should send it to law schools when they’re training up-and-coming lawyers. Our lawyers are pretty good when it comes to this because keeping things childishly simple, concise and stripping out jargon is part of our brand DNA. But even then, we’ve learned a lot from using Passle. ”
It’s clear that they are thinking about how their content reflects on their brand, not just in terms of content but also presentation. Golda points out that they “aim to provide solutions as quickly as possible so we don’t want to be writing lengthy posts and not get to the call-to-action straightaway.”
They are also aware of the importance of resharing and repurposing content, so that their audience is more likely to see it. “We don’t create content to file it away and let it gather dust”, says Golda, “it’s such a waste of time and talent.”
The future looks bright for LHS, who are already buried in building this year’s new products and solutions, and it’s clear that Merlie and Golda are passionate about what they do. “We’re not going to stop”, says Merlie, “we have the bug so badly we couldn’t stop even if we tried”.