With over 20 years of experience and an industry ranked ‘Leader in her Field’, Elizabeth Ward set up Virtuoso Legal in 2007 to deal with the specialist requirements of companies for intellectual property and information technology legal advice. Armed with the technological expertise she has ensured her practice is fully capable of adapting to the digital age through various means of digital transformation.
We spoke to her to discuss what she has learnt through this process of adopting a digital infrastructure, whether this is a viable option for smaller firms, it’s key benefit and how she sees the legal landscape evolving in the coming years.
Question 1 – What are some of the mistakes that you have made, and the lessons that you have learned while building a business using a digital infrastructure?
The firm’s always been based on a digital base I’ve always seen that as being absolutely an obvious way to go forward to create that as part of your infrastructure. Where I’ve made mistakes, I think is in a lot of digital marketing. I’ve wasted a huge amount of money in digital marketing and in the past I think people have held their selves out as experts and they haven’t really been able to deliver and they haven’t known about my business and I’ve been rather hoodwinked into paying for services that were just inappropriate and didn’t speak to the target demographic, didn’t contain all the marketing elements that they should have done but with digital marketing initiatives. I think those are some lessons I’ve learned, but it’s always been glaringly obvious to me that the digital world is with us and that selling your services through the internet having the latest cloud-based systems were obvious to me from day one. I set the business up back 12 years ago is with cloud-based systems, with cloud-based case management systems, we moved to, or we tried to move to cloud-based accounting systems two years ago. We failed because the technology wasn’t really there and wasn’t up to snuff but we’re now moving to that and I would have moved to that two years ago. One of the mistakes I made was not making enough investigations about that two years ago, but digital is here digital marketing is here, digital materials here, social media is here, selling things on the internet is here, and it’s not going away; you either embrace it and you run with it, or you die.
Question 2 – Are there any marketing strategies that have not worked for your firm?
Some of them have turned out to be dark arts. We use a lot of search engine optimization, we also use things like Google pay-per-click as marketing initiatives. Some of those worked really well, but they only worked really well when you really drill down into the detail and you mine out what works and what doesn’t and you take a very kind of rigorous analysis as to what your client is looking for, what the competition is doing, how you can position yourself differently. I’ve invested an awful lot of my time and money making sure that I do know what works, but it is a dark art.
Question 3 – Has it been a difficult journey learning the intricacies of digital marketing?
It has been a bit of a journey, but the trouble is if you rely on other people to do that for you, they don’t know really what you’re selling, they can only second-guess it really. Even the most competent people can only really second-guess it, they don’t know what your customers are looking for, they don’t know what the keywords are because they’re not legally trained, and we found some campaigns worked really well, and others just compete with the mass market. I’ll give you an example because I think this is the best way that it works, we try to market online a lot of non-contentious drafting and commercial work, but it doesn’t work because what we’re doing on that on that level is competing with people who were effectively selling template legal agreements to people – people wanted to buy a template agreement for £60 or £100. That’s not the market that we’re in, but that was the market that digitally we could compete in. Now that’s not to say that that won’t change in the future, but certainly at the moment those digital platforms, we’re never going to compete with somebody who’s just selling a template. We’re selling legal services and to the audience who are looking for things as templates, we’re all the same. Until the audience is a bit more sophisticated, you can’t differentiate out the template law firms or the template providers versus the law firms who are serious players and we’ll give you proper commercial advice.
Question 4 – What’s your perspective regarding attributing Return on Investment (ROI) to social media?
It’s the only way to measure any kind of marketing investment, and whilst we haven’t been terribly accurate with it in the past, we do market a return on investment in every aspect of what we’re doing. We monitored the calls that are incoming, what are the source of those calls, what’s made people pick up the phone, how many are we getting per month, how many are we’re converting. We don’t have systems, like some big businesses have systems to monitor that, but we do monitor it. We monitor the incoming calls and we monitor where they sourced from and we have a number of ways of doing that. Either we’ll we get software to log where a call has come, from how people have found us. We have things like tracking numbers on our marketing material which will again give us a report at the end of the day on number of calls that we’ve had, how long those calls have been. We haven’t got around to recording any of them yet but maybe that’s something for the future.
Question 5 – What processes do you believe need to be automated in the future?
We’re investing very shortly. We’re going to move our case management system to the latest technology because we do believe in investing in technology and that will actually save us a huge amount of time because an awful lot of our work as fee-earners is done doing things that we cannot charge the client for necessarily. Formatting a letter properly, making sure that things are properly filed and saved, and dealing with client inquiries in relation to billing. All those administrative tasks, which probably take up about between 10 and 20 percent of your work when you’re a lawyer, and all those can be automated and in fact with the right case management system, you are spending a fraction of time making sure, for example, that you capture all the client details once. There are current systems at the moment, we’re capturing the clients on the system two to three times because what we’re doing is were capturing a client on our case management system, we’re having to duplicate that on our account system, and then we’re having to duplicate it yet again on a customer relationship management system. All that will merge into one technology and means that we’re own inputting it once and so there are a lot of savings and technology that you can use that will make your work far more efficient from that point of view.
I am aware of things like artificial intelligence doing drafting and I think certainly for mass and commoditized types of law, where people are doing lots of drafting, for example on conveyancing documents or personal injury documents, those will come into their own. As time goes on those automated systems will eliminate people from the system, eliminate the fact that fee-earners have to sit there and draft letters to a very large extent. Being in a commercial niche area (as we are) I’m not saying that those AI systems won’t come to us they will but their work with the same financial drive into our arena that there is into some other arenas.
I’m also aware of things like for example new technology that looks that due diligence and deal rooms, for example where you do massive due diligence, and there’s lots of software now that can scan documents in very quickly and pull out key terms to do to produce a due diligence report. Those are going to revolutionize the law but at the moment there are fairly early stages of testing and development.
Question 6 – Do you think there is an argument for smaller firms not to embark on a digital transformation journey?
No. I think that people are frightened of making the investment and I understand that I put a lot of my own cash into Virtuoso Legal so Virtuoso Legal is my baby, and it’s been an expensive investment. but you can’t afford not to do. It’s a bit like saying if John Lewis 15 20 years ago or Argos 15-20 years ago, hadn’t said we need to invest in our website, they wouldn’t be existing today. You only have to look on the high screen, you only have to look at companies that have collapsed in the past five or six years to realise that they’re all the ones who didn’t embrace technology.
Question 7 – What are some of the key benefits that you have experienced for digital transformation?
I think we’re cutting down a lot of administrative tasks that actually are boring and are badly done because people aren’t interested in administrative tasks. We’re cutting out that frustration sometimes at work and sometimes that level of boredom and focusing more on the legal work that we do and the analysis and the drafting and so on and so forth. We’re eliminating that, but the other thing that we’re doing is making that process extremely efficient. Once you make it very efficient then you deliver great value to your clients, and tomorrow’s law firms will be the ones who are delivering value to clients, and who are delivering good legal services, great advice and doing it in a cost-effective way and one of my big bugbears is that’s not how the law operates at the moment.
Question 8 – Are there any advantages of being a smaller firm when implementing digital transformation solutions?
There’s a lot of advantages because you can implement new systems very quickly indeed. We’ve looked at this new case management system, and I know because with only 12 to 15 people to implement it with, we can do it straight away whereas if your DLA or your Walker Morris, or your one of the other big players and you thousands of fee-earners to convert on to it, thousands of people to train, lots of systems to integrate with on levels, in all departments, that inherently makes things much slower and the decision making process is much slower. That’s a big problem for them because they can’t embrace the technology that will move them forward at a speed of light.
Question 9 – What are some of the ways that the legal landscape is going to evolve over the next few years?
We’re thinking much more globally. We’re going to be operating on much more of a global platform than we have been before. There’s a great big world map up in my office in Leeds and it’s there for a reason because we will be transacting with clients all over the globe. Those are some of the technologies and again, embracing technologies we have for example by video conferencing meetings, enabling is not to travel but enabling us to have a great presence and interaction with clients over a video conferencing platform. Globalization is going to be big and it’s going to be huge for us. Another big trend that I see coming is the operational efficiencies that artificial intelligence, that those kind of AI-type savings are going to deliver. A more intelligent look at the world, more intelligent look at customers and customer behaviour is going to deliver quite a lot of value and savings to customers at the end of the day. I think they’re just going to be a real sea-change in the people that are succeeding in the law. They’re going to be young, they’re going to be much more interested in technology. There’s still quite a big chunk of the legal profession who find anything other than doing things in a very old-fashioned way deeply uncomfortable, they will be gone.
I think an awful lot of people are going to be left behind. I think the old adage of you either go niche, you go big, or you go home and there’ll be a number of people who go home a number of organizations that go home because they haven’t embraced the technology, because they haven’t embraced the changes in society, because they basically are running out of steam by the way that they operate. They are going to be too expensive, they’re going to be too slow, they’re going to not be niche, they’re not going to have the right kind of online reputation. They are going to go in the same way that Woolworths has disappeared off the high street.
Question 10 – What are your thoughts on security in cloud-based systems, and do you think the law has caught up with the technological age?
You’ll find that in actual fact, a lot of legal systems have already embraced security within them, so the claim-based systems that we’ve got certainly for accounts, and certainly for case management are already fairly secure and they’re becoming more and more secure. The way forward with that is encryption and using systems we’ve got Microsoft 365 and so on and so forth, which are fairly secure, I don’t see that as being a big leak. In actual fact we’re more secure now than we probably were ten years ago, when we’re printing documents off.
Question 11 – What social media platforms do you use, and how has this impacted the way you run Virtuoso Legal?
Well I do a lot on LinkedIn because basically that’s my own professional network all on LinkedIn but I do quite a bit on Facebook too because I’m a member of a number of business groups on there, and in actual fact there’s quite a lot of questions that are posed there from members of the business community, whether they’re enquiring about whether or not they need a trademark, all sorts of questions, one of the members of staff running off with confidential information. We get instructions through LinkedIn and through Facebook, through accessing those channels. We post quite a lot on social media because again people watch and people are interested in the kind of topics and the information that we have to put out there, so we do use social media.
Question 12 – What’s more important in 2019 – offline or online marketing?
I have prompted other people to engage in a similar activity but our marketing in the incoming inquiries into the firm fall very firmly into online and offline. Online and offline. With the offline ones they tend to be higher quality, better value referrals and those are through face-to-face meetings and networks and contacts that we have, but the digital channel enables those networks to be maximized. They enable people to pick up the phone instantly because they can instantly find you. They enable you to keep in touch. They enable you to position yourself as a master in your particular craft, so I see them very complementary and a lot of people don’t embrace them because they don’t understand the interaction between the two. It’s very similar as well between – if you look at the retail world which I think a lot of people understand, the people who succeeded are the ones who’ve got great physical presence like John Lewis and online John Lewis and actually walking into a store and it’s the same with the law. We will always have to have law firms where people can sit down in private and discuss something with a lawyer, or have a referral from another lawyer or from an accountant or whoever because that’s what people are comfortable with and we’re talking about human behaviour here. But the more you’ve got digital marketing channels the easier, it is to pick up the phone.