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A post in the Law Society Gazette suggests a growth strategy that might be very productive for small and midsize law firms.

Instead of trying to expand your market presence in a major commercial center, which is already crowded with competitors, your firm's better opportunities might be found in a "legal desert."

What is a legal services desert?

"Millions deprived of lawyer as vast legal aid deserts revealed" by Monidipa Fouzder reports the results of an analysis by the Law Society of the availability of local legal services in England and Wales. It reveals the presence of "catastrophic legal aid deserts across the country," with millions of people without access to a legal services provider in key areas such as education, community care, and housing.

To cite some of the findings, the Law Society's analysis reveals that, across England and Wales,

  • 47 million (79%) do not have access to a local welfare legal aid provider
  • 40 million (67%) do not have access to a local community care legal aid provider
  • 38 million  (63%) do not have access to a local immigration and asylum legal aid provider
  • 23.5 million (39%) do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice

These figures are for England and Wales, only, but similar analyses by Walker Clark LLC have confirmed that similar legal services deserts are part of the legal services topography almost worldwide. While understandable in remote, sparsely populated regions, many of these chronically underserved (and, in some cases, unserved) areas in developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Europe, are only a relatively short distance from cities, especially secondary cities.

It is important to note that the reference to "legal aid" in the Law Society Gazette article could be a little misleading because it focuses only on one very important set of indicators. Our firm's examinations of similar underserved areas persuade us that the shortage of competent legal services goes beyond legal aid services (i.e., publicly funded or subsidized legal services). These areas usually also have a significant, unsatisfactorily met, demand for services to fee-paying clients. The "desert" usually is much larger and "drier" than indicated by the unavailability of legal aid.

Could your law firm become an "oasis" in a legal desert?

The legal deserts could "bloom" for small and midsize firms that are willing to make the relatively small investment needed to establish a profitable practice, while also creating some differentiating competitive advantages over larger, better-known law firms that have overlooked or dismissed the opportunities.

Are there any promising spots where your firm could create and lead a legal services "oasis?" There are a lot of questions to consider; for example:

  • Who are the clients there who need your services? Do not reject a legal "desert" only because it's populated mostly by poor people or small businesses. Remember also that the presence of reasonably-priced, high-quality legal services can stimulate economic development, sometimes "from the bottom up."
  • What legal services are the "water" in a legal services desert? Can your firm deliver them? As indicated by the Law Society study, people who live and work in legal deserts often need basic legal services, which smaller law firms often can deliver more profitably than large ones. Today's communications, legal management technology, and innovative approaches to staffing -- some of which law firms have mastered during the COVID-19 panemic -- can dramatically lower the cost and improve the productivity of "remote" offices. Small and midsize "retail" law firms -- firms that focus primarily on services to individuals and small businesses -- already offer service lines for which there is often an unmet demand in legal deserts.
  • What can your firm do better than the few legal service providers that might already be there? What differentiating benefits and advantages can your firm offer to the prospective clients there, other than just being "the only law firm in town?"

How we can help you make and implement a decision that is right for your firm

Not every law firm should attempt to move out into a legal desert and become an oasis.

For more than 19 years, Walker Clark LLC has been advising law firms worldwide about local or regional expansion opportunities. Specifically, for a highly cost-effective fee (which includes all expenses -- even travel if necessary), we can work with you to:

  • Identify the most promising possible locations for your legal services oasis;
  • Build and test a business case for your "oasis";
  • Guide your firm to a well-informed strategic business decision about each possible opportunity;
  • Define and execute strategic priorities, business objectives, and marketing tactics for your "oasis"; and
  • Build a highly cost-effective operational infrastructure for your new office.

Should your law firm create an oasis in a legal "desert"? Contact us by e-mail by e-mail, or at the telephone number at the bottom of this page, to schedule a complementary discussion with a member of the Walker Clark strategy team..

Norman Clark