The trendy, if somewhat crass, proverb “innovate or die” has found new prescience during the coronavirus pandemic, as businesses rush to implement business continuity plans that rely heavily on digital technologies.
Moves towards remote working, digital communications and online services were gradual before the public health crisis struck, piloted predominantly by companies that had a good degree of digital literacy already embedded into their operations.
Now, digital transformation is a matter of survival for businesses of all kinds, whether it be retailers setting up online shops, restaurants launching takeaway services, colleges offering online courses or industry bodies holding webinars and virtual networking sessions.
The transition has been particularly interesting in professional services, where face-to-face interaction is traditionally the central tenet of the sector.
Scores of law firms, accountancy practices, wealth managers and business consultancies have embraced digital transformation with open arms, launching online portals, business support desks and podcasts since the start of the crisis.
Sintons were in the fortunate position of having been thinking about digital for some years. David Pritchard, head of marketing at the law firm, has made digital transformation his personal mission since joining in 2014.
He says: “When I started at the firm, we had a 40-page website and that’s now grown to a 4000-page site. It’s always been at the forefront of my mind to try and provide useful and relevant content to clients.
“Introducing such a large content resource has also allowed us to differentiate ourselves in a crowded marketplace and be seen as a real expert in a number of different fields.”
When the Government lockdown came into effect, Sintons launched a COVID-19 portal pulling together advice articles, podcasts, Q&As and presentations from a range of different practice areas.
David describes the effect this has had on website statistics and engagement as “phenomenal”.
Ten years ago, the idea of making legal advice and business support freely available on the internet would have been met with unease by firms concerned it would deter potential clients from paying for legal services.
But there’s a growing consensus now that you have to continue to engage with the marketplace by positioning yourself as an expert in your field and the best way to do that is through digital.
For Sintons, sharing content online has been a big part of why the firm has been busy during the lockdown.
“Some areas of the firm have really seen a huge surge in demand,” says David. “Our employment and corporate teams who advise businesses on and around coronavirus support schemes have been busy as has our private client team, particularly with people making provisions for their families through a mix of wills and powers of attorney.”
A recent analysis of case data by global legal software provider, Clio, found that legal matters have declined by around 30 per cent since the start of lockdown, with a comparable fall in monthly billables.
It’s therefore encouraging that Sintons is seeing strong business volumes across any of its practice areas.
David says: “Every business has been affected by what’s going on – it’d be ridiculous to say otherwise. Everyone’s been affected is some way, shape or form, but now it’s about trying to position yourself for the future.”
What better way to do that than to take all of the opportunities that exist with digital to engage with the marketplace?
Gone are the days of law firms simply typesetting a 12 month yellow pages advert and hoping for the best. Now, with the click of a button, businesses can provide updates on new hires, promotions and clients and react to what’s going on in the world in real-time.
David concludes: “We don’t know what lies ahead for the economy, we don’t know what lies ahead for the world. But I just think that maintaining on online presence and interacting with your marketplace is one of the most effective things you can do at the moment.
“Hopefully when things do recover, people will also remember that you were there for them when the going got tough.”