Added27th June 2013 by Riverview LawRiverview Law

Moulding the future of law firms

It started from scratch just over a year ago, created fear in many rivals and now has a team in excess of 100. Riverview Law is a fixed fee legal business that is changing the way companies access legal services. Allan Archer, director of customer experiences, talks to Neasa MacErlean of Professional Marketing Magazine. When Riverview Law opened its doors in February last year the phone started ringing almost immediately. “From week one we were getting calls from large corporations,” says Allan Archer. This was a surprise. With its fixed fees, money-back guarantee and annual contracts, Riverview had expected to attract SMEs (small and medium enterprises) before larger organisations. A year on, Riverview works with several household names (though, for confidentiality reasons, it cannot disclose who these are) through a team of over 100 solicitors, barristers and support staff based predominantly in the low cost area of the Wirral, near Liverpool. Archer believes that big business was “intrigued” by a law firm offering “true fixed fees” with nothing hidden in the fine print. The UK legal market was just being liberalised at that stage, allowing non-lawyers to set up “alternative business structures”, funded with their capital, to offer legal services. While most new entrants like the Co-op focused on consumer law, Riverview chose to launch its services solely to the business market. Since then, the Riverview Law team has been winning clients among large and small businesses in the UK and – since May 2012 – through its New York office, its first staging post in the US. Making gains at the top end of the market was, in some ways, easier than at the other end. Archer and Riverview’s chief executive Karl Chapman had run AdviserPlus, an organisation with a similar approach which provided business/ human resources advice for businesses, for over a decade and they already had the contacts and the technology which they could draw on to create Riverview Law. For large customers, Riverview provides monthly feedback about where their legal matters are coming from. This can help these customers cut their costs. For instance, an increase in consumer litigation could be traced back to a problematic script in a call centre. But Riverview – which is made up of Riverview Solicitors and Riverview Chambers – had to think more carefully about the SME category which had largely become sceptical about fixed fees and other marketing claims. At first, Riverview tried out some traditional channels – particularly direct mail, the local press and radio. It had its greatest success with radio in getting over the fixed price message. But the company realised it had to do something different from the norm. “Instead of trying to mass market, we wanted to talk to SMEs,” says Archer. This would allow small businesses to ask questions and establish for themselves that the annual rates promised – £3,960 for organisations with between six and 24 employees, for instance – did not contain get-out clauses. Social media – particularly Twitter and Facebook – have proved to be ideal in facilitating this communication. “Twitter is conversational and allows us to answer questions and build relationships,” says Archer. The dialogue with clients is invaluable, he explains. “We need to constantly engage with businesses so that we’re aware of their current needs and issues. These businesses play as big a part as we do in moulding the future direction of the legal market.” But Riverview did not get the dialogue going from a completely cold start. They wanted to offer something useful to their potential customers which would then entice them to engage in conversation. That something was the online legal library, Myview. It offers free unlimited access to over 650 advice pages and 450 documents, FAQs, letters and templates relating to running a business. “The breadth and depth of advice and guidance in this library is unrivalled and will help business take a more pre-emptive approach to the running of their business. These cover subjects from HR to sales and marketing, finance and regulation to technology and health & safety,” explains Archer. The Riverview team regularly updates the library in response to new cases or legislation or when issues become timely. The UK horse meat scandal in spring this year gave Riverview the opportunity to communicate on who might be affected, how to prevent being damaged and what legal steps to take. “We have a social media manager,” says Archer. “We encourage our employees to tweet. Chief Executive Karl Chapman is very active.” Unlike many of his peers in other legal businesses, Archer is totally convinced by the usefulness of Twitter and other social media. “It’s a lot to do with monitoring what is happening,” he says. “You get a lot of knowledge and feedback.” Riverview won the prize for the ‘Best Emerging Firm’ in the MPF Awards for Management Excellence earlier this year. That award followed on from being described as “standout” in the Financial Times Innovative Awards 2012. Its innovations affect many parts of the business and have a positive knock-on effect on customer service. Archer explains: “Our people can just get on with providing a solution rather than thinking ‘how much can I bill because I want to develop my career?’” Riverview is still growing – actively recruiting – and expects to expand far more once it has firmly established its business model in the UK. One possibly surprising aspect of its current profile is that only 18 per cent of its personnel are not lawyers. The model is technology-heavy and lawyer-heavy – not, in contrast with some other pioneering firms, support staff-heavy. While, like many other firms, Riverview says it is only a matter of time before it opens up bases in China and the Middle East, it is not just following a fad. Before that stage it expects to expand more in the US, building upon its New York office – and not many UK firms are doing that right now. The mantra from many other commercial law firms is that the new world of alternative business structures and legal liberalisation will not affect the business sector. Some competitors have seemed rather offhand about the threat from Riverview. They will be hoping that Archer is wrong when, speaking of the legal market, he says: “There will be a lot of new brands and as a result a lot of existing firms will struggle.”