Law: Sending out lures to business: Links with agencies that advise companies should bring valuable new clients to solicitors, reports Sharon Wallach

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The Independent Online
A CAMPAIGN to promote legal services to the business community has been launched by the Law Society. The scheme, Lawyers for Business, aims to help solicitors to find new clients with the aid of referrals from the various bodies advising businesses.

Lawyers for Business was born out of another scheme, Lawyers for Enterprise, which has been running for some years in a fairly low-key way. Like its predecessor, Lawyers for Business offers a free, half-hour diagnostic interview to potential small-business clients. So what has changed, apart from the name?

According to Gerald Newman, practice support manager at the Law Society, the difference is that the revamped scheme is to be given a higher profile and greater support. 'There was a feeling in the profession that we were not doing enough to support Lawyers for Enterprise; this was largely justified. So we are putting more substantial resources into Lawyers for Business.'

These include pounds 20,000 for a public relations campaign, led from the society's headquarters in Chancery Lane. 'This will mean more benefits for participating firms, although they will have to do their own promotional work locally,' says Mr Newman.

Another aspect of the relaunch is a stronger emphasis on work with referral bodies, including enterprise agencies, business advice centres and the Federation of Small Businesses. 'Co- operation with these organisations is an excellent way of helping business people,' Mr Newman says.

The free initial interview, he believes, 'is a crucial way to get clients across the doorstep. It also helps in part to overcome traditional anxieties about costs.'

Unlike Lawyers for Enterprise, the new scheme requires solicitors to pay a nominal pounds 35 membership fee. For their money they will receive regular newsletters, as well as practical advice about how to promote the scheme for themselves.

'We will be feeding them much more information about the scheme throughout its life, rather than just at the launch,' Mr Newman says. 'But the most significant benefit is the link with the referral agencies. The society can do more than individual firms in terms of promotion to the network of advice bodies.'

Clients targeted by Lawyers for Business are mainly new and small businesses, although small as defined by the Department of Trade and Industry means a staff of 500 or fewer. 'Research has shown us that even companies of that size have an unmet need for legal services,' Mr Newman says.

Lawyers for Enterprise was operated in some two thousand solicitors' offices. 'We hope that at least a thousand will rejoin the scheme, though our soundings suggest that we should get considerably more,' Mr Newman says.

The original membership was spread evenly, both geographically and in terms of size of firm. 'We had thought that the scheme would be of interest primarily to the smaller firms. But it wasn't so. Leaving aside the mega-firms, there were a significant number of 10-plus partner firms.'

The scheme will be self-regulating, with no specific monitoring of standards by the Law Society. However, member firms will need to have the relevant expertise and ability, Mr Newman says.

'This is no more than is stated in the general professional rules. But we do remind members that they should pay particular attention to issues such as quality. Good client care is what attracts and keeps clients.'

The intention is that people attracted by the free initial interview will return to become regular clients. The message the society wants to get across is that good legal advice can help business in a positive way, not least by suggesting preventive action before things go wrong.

'There was some scepticism about whether Lawyers for Enterprise was achieving that,' says Mr Newman, 'but more than a third of those who consulted a solicitor under the scheme stayed on. That's not a bad yield from such a low level of investment.'

At the beginning of next month, solicitors will be lobbied to join the scheme. In June, the society will launch its PR campaign aimed at the public and, more specifically, the business community. Research conducted by the society suggests that, despite the recession, business affairs work provides about 28 per cent of the profession's fee income, while occupying 12 per cent of its time. And three law practices out of five predict that business work will continue to be an increasingly important source of income.

Maitland Kalton, a member of the Lawyers for Enterprise Users' Group, runs a small practice based near the City of London. He is enthusiastic about the scheme, not least its value in the longer term.

'We had a relatively high return on Lawyers for Enterprise,' he says. 'Even where clients did not go ahead with a particular project, they came back for other work, because we had built up trust and a good relationship with them.

'We also regularly get work referred to us by business intermediaries and enterprise agencies,' he says.

Mr Kalton, whose professional background was with a large West End practice, set up his own firm in 1988. He relied on the fact that his own commercial experience - he is also the export director of a fabric company - would be invaluable in attracting small business clients.

He believes that the Law Society's involvement in promoting the scheme lends it credibility. 'Lawyers for Business gives you the first contact point,' he says. 'It's up to you to do the rest.' His own marketing strategy includes giving regular seminars to business people and offering business clients a 20 per cent discount on fees for the first year.

According to Paul Marsh, chairman of the Law Society's property and commercial services committee, the society's commitment to promoting the relaunched scheme will underwrite its success. He points to the society's 'Will Power' campaign of last year, which brought in a lot of will- writing work for participating firms.

Joining Lawyers for Business, Mr Marsh believes, would be a step forward in 'the tough task of preparing to capitalise on economic recovery'.

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