What we aim to market is skill, speed, specialisation and personal contact with an individual lawyer; Robert Llewellyn Jones reports on the challenges facing small legal firms from the Legal Services Act, which next year will see banks and supermarkets able to offer legal services and how one Valleys' firm is confident of continued growth.
THE challenges posed by the introduction of "Tesco Law" will be met head-on by solicitors JNP Legal.
The Valleys law firm, with its head office in Merthyr Tydfil and a branch office at Nelson, is gearing itself up ahead of the Legal Services Act, which comes onto the statute books in October 2011.
With the proposed legislation and the raft of changes that accompanies it, many small legal practices could disappear. Many within the profession believe the market will change and firms that close their eyes to this threat do so at their peril.
JNP Legal was set up in 1981 and has its ethos deeply rooted in the needs of the communities it serves.
Senior partner Geraint Jenkins, who established the business in 1981, said: "To meet this challenge we departmentalised the firm and tried to identify trends and niches within the area.
"Having survived four recessions and been able to expand is due to our identifying those areas where people need assistance.
"Our strength has been in offering not quantity but quality legal advice and client service in areas like matrimonial law and child care."
The way forward for a practice like this, Mr Jenkins believes, is to offer a personal service to businesses and the general public throughout South Wales.
It is, he explained, about ensuring JNP's partners are involved in client's affairs at all times.
There is a large pool of potential clients who want this rather than the alternative soon to become available.
Offering this will help override the issues raised by the new Act, while ensuring the firm remains a force within its catchment area. To achieve this, JNP Legal has embarked on a re-profiling strategy which has seen it sign a sponsorship contract with Merthyr RFC to become the club's main sponsors for the next three years.
Running in conjunction with this will be a marketing campaign, specifically designed to attract a wider clientele while counteracting the threat from larger, non-legal concerns.
Mr Jenkins said: "What we intend to market is skill, speed, specialisation and personal contact with an individual lawyer." He added: "There will always be those happy to make a telephone call to the anonymity of a call centre line, while there are others who want work done by experts with whom they have personal contact."
The whole exercise is a blue print of how a legal practice can avoid the threat of what has been termed commoditisation while still maintaining its own integrity.
One of the ways JNP Legal believe this can be achieved is through adopting information technology systems on a par with those offered clients by prospective competitors who will be allowed to operate under the new law.
Tony Williams, a partner at the firm, explained: "We have successfully achieved the Law Society's Lexcel practice management standard, which is only awarded to solicitors who meet the highest management and customer care standards.
" In addition we have in place a training programme, which enables us to develop staff who remain with us after qualifying.
"In July we were joined by newly-qualified solicitors and look forward to adding another two in January 2011.
He added: "Of the 20 lawyers we have here, many of whom are Welsh speakers, only one was recruited rather than trained in house and brought through the system.
"The training we have has allowed us to develop a strong base of qualified lawyers who can provide the personal service which is so different from that seen as the likely consequences of the new Act."
On the subject of multi-dis-ciplinary partnerships, JNP Legal will examine this as and when it arises, but Mr Williams is in no doubt that anything that will strengthen its service will be considered and if necessary adopted.
"On the question of investment in this practice from those outside the legal field, that is something we are considering as a way of surviving the risks of Tesco law and improving our position within our catchment area.
Ready for the challenge - family lawyer Lee Davies, solicitor and partner Tony Williams and criminal advocate Josie Flicker of JNP Legal of Merthyr Tydfil
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Aug 25, 2010|
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