Here’s some good news if the marketing budget for your infant solicitors firm is going to be tight: swish advertising only goes so far. Across the professional services sector, recommendations and independent reviews regularly top the list factors influencing buyers’ decisions. In short, reputation counts for a lot.
So if you’re in practice already, your focus right now should be on continuing to deliver outstanding work and cultivate client relationships. Bear in mind that even if non-compete clauses in your contract prevent you from taking a following with you when you go, there’s still plenty of scope to capitalise on this by earning personal recommendations from those clients (via LinkedIn or independent review sites, for instance). These can set you in good stead when you move on.
You should also think about boosting your formal credentials to improve your profile and marketability. Here are a few areas to focus on:
Higher rights of audience
Having the Higher Rights of Audience qualification means that you’re able to represent clients as a solicitor advocate — the title used by a solicitor able to represent clients in a broader range of courts (a ‘higher audience’) than the average solicitor.
By no means do you have to be a solicitor advocate to make it as a sole practitioner in the fields of civil or criminal litigation. It’s worth considering though, so bear in mind the following:
There are separate awards for criminal and civil litigation.
The assessment is run by SRA-approved assessment providers, and consists of a combination of written and oral exams, and advocacy exercises. The cost for the assessment element is in the region of £600.
There is no mandatory training requirement, although there are plenty of courses out there to help you brush up on your skills.
Even as a trainee, you can take the assessment, and if you pass it, you can automatically apply for higher rights on qualification. If you’re still doing your LPC, focus on your advocacy module to set you in good stead for applying later on.
Being able to conduct your own litigation brings the advantage of decreased reliance on counsel, and (in theory, at least) higher profit costs per case. In short, there’s scope for fewer disbursements in the form of counsel’s brief fees, and more recoverable, chargeable time for you linked to the trial.
There’s also the kudos of being able to tell clients that you’re authorised to handle all aspects of their litigation — including the actual hearing.
Just because you’ve got higher rights authority under your belt though, doesn’t mean you have to exercise those rights in every case. Especially for a sole practitioner, there’s a lot to be said for getting a fresh perspective and opinion from counsel. Also, some clients may prefer you to instruct a barrister on their behalf when it comes to trial, despite the fact that you’re more than capable of dealing with it yourself.
Think of higher rights as a potentially useful string to your bow; something to help you establish your authority, and exercise when appropriate on a case-by-case basis.
Law Society Accreditation
It’s easy to claim to be an expert: the hard part is backing it up. In areas such as family, and probate and personal injury to name a few, the Law Society’s accreditation scheme is designed to reassure consumers that they are in safe hands. Here’s why you should consider it:
You get listed on the directory of accredited lawyers for your relevant specialism. Potential clients can search this directory.
You can display the accreditation logo on your promotional material.
Accreditation is based on sound evidence of experience (rather than merely years on the job). Think about flagship cases you have dealt with to cite in support of your application.
These organisations aim to promote best practice, and represent the interests of various specialisms within the profession. A handy directory of associations is available via infolaw. Here’s how they can be useful:
There are often different tiers of membership: for instance, member, fellow, and even student. The public can search the relevant association's directory to source members.
You can display the membership logo on your promotional material.
Members are sometimes called upon to provide quotes and contribute to debates in local and national media.
They can be a source of genuinely useful training and development resources.
They are great for networking.
Members’ forums can provide a handy informal support network, which can be especially useful for sole practitioners. You can post a quick query about an issue you’re faced with and more often than not, there’ll be someone out there with an answer.
Other ways to boost your profile
Your local law society or young solicitors group can be a great way of widening your professional network.
When your area of law hits the news, contact local radio and press directly to offer your opinion. Can you contribute articles to local trade associations and business support groups?
When your new firm is up and running, consider applying for Lexcel accreditation — the Law Society’s benchmark for firms that reach high standards of management and client service.
Want to know more about showing your new firm in the best possible light? Check out our help centre for a range of no-nonsense guides on marketing and reputation building.