Tessa talks to us about how she got into the legal industry, how the industry has evolved over time and what she predicts for the future of the relationship between law firms and technology.
What attracted you to a career in the legal industry?
I had no idea I was interested in law until I took a legal module as part of a secretarial course I was taking (having found that my Geography degree did not help in getting a job). I enjoyed it so much that I decided to try for the London External Law Degrees.
Thankfully I passed all my exams and qualified as a solicitor in 1990 – but I never want to do another exam again!
How has the legal industry changed during your career?
I qualified at the end of a period of old-style traditional solicitors. There were tales of the whole office going to a local cafe every day for tea, long lunches, plus apparently there was a bloke in the office I was working in at the time who worked in the basement and had a model train set which ran round all the shelves! Computers were only just starting to come in…
I bought a computer when I set up in sole practice in 1994 and gradually took my business online. During the 1990s and early 2000s, I was involved in the Local Law Society where I arranged their CPD courses. At the time, most people thought my interest in computers and the internet was a bit weird. I can remember one solicitor asking me, after I had been talking about LinkedIn, whether it was some sort of online dating service!
Now the majority of firms have a website and most solicitors have a computer on their desk. However, I don’t think many lawyers have been as good as they could be in realising the potential for online services. I suspect most are still giving advice and providing services on a one to one basis, which is great if you’ve got a client who can afford to do it. The trouble is, most people can’t.
How has the internet impacted the way you work in the legal industry?
The internet has transformed my business completely. I started as a traditional sole practitioner in 1994 running a mixed bag litigation practice with an emphasis on property law.
In 2001, as an experiment, I started an online information service for landlords and tenants called Landlord Law (www.landlordlaw.co.uk). It was based on the idea that few landlords and tenants have much understanding of landlord and tenant law, and that most would be willing to pay a modest sum for reliable information.
I was very lucky that the service I started turned into what many consider to be the ‘holy grail’ of internet services – recurring subscription payments for a one-to-many information site.
Having my business online has meant that instead of explaining the same thing to clients over and over again on a one-to-one basis, I write a really good explanatory article for my Landlord Law site which everyone can read for themselves. I also now get a regular income, rather than the irregular large payments I used to get as a litigation solicitor (the cause of many cash flow problems).
How has writing your blog contributed to the success of your website?
I started my blog, www.landlordlawblog.co.uk in 2006, mainly because I like writing. As people are paying to access Landlord Law, they want information rather than my opinion on things. So I started the blog originally as somewhere I could write and give my views on landlord and tenant / legal issues.
To start with, the blog wasn’t very professional and I didn’t write regularly. However in about 2009, after reading about the power of social media, I decided to develop the blog as a business asset. Over the years I have learnt to write in a casual, informal style that appeals to non lawyers. (One of the main problems with legal blogs is they are effectively written for other lawyers and so most non-lawyers can’t understand them!) Landlord Law Blog, on the other hand, is written for clients which is what makes it so popular.
Having written so many posts about landlord and tenant law, it means there are hundreds of my posts online with my chosen keywords. This makes it very easy for people to find me via a Google search.
The Landlord Law blog is one of my main marketing assets. It’s completely free for everyone to use, and there is a wealth of information along with links and adverts for my paid services, where people can get further information.
What does it take to be successful in the legal industry?
It depends on what you do. I think you have a better chance of being successful if you specialise. This has been the basis of my success – I specialise in residential landlord and tenant law, concentrating on short lets.
What has been your biggest challenge since working in the legal industry?
I think probably the biggest challenge for me, and the thing I spend a huge amount of time on, is marketing and promotion.
When I first set up Landlord Law it was a very unusual service and no-one knew such a thing existed. If you don’t know that something exists, you don’t go looking for it! So I had to put a lot of effort into getting the word out to landlords.
I still spend a lot of time and effort on marketing. If you work on the internet, it is easy to drop out of sight. It’s not like people walk past your office every day on the way to work. If you don’t have customers you don’t have a business, so it is very important. It’s also something which many solicitors don’t even think about. Marketing is done by ‘marketing people’ and often (and most unwisely) it’s the first thing to go in a financial crisis.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out in the legal profession today?
I would begin by saying that even if you don’t end up working in the legal profession, you won’t regret your legal training. It is an extremely useful background to have for all types of business and moreover it helps you learn to think – always a useful skill!
I also think that if you have another talent or interest as well as law, that can be a big advantage. New ideas and services often arise from studying the interface between different disciplines.
If you know someone who’s making waves in the legal industry, nominate them to be featured in our Leaders In Legal blog series here.