The headline on this week’s Law Society Gazette, the house magazine for solicitors, is “Consumers sceptical about “Tesco law” (1). Poll research carried out by ComRes, a polling company, on behalf of the Solicitors Regulation Authority apparently reveals that 69% of its respondents have reservations about the quality of legal services that would be provided by banks and supermarkets once the legal market is deregulated, the so-called “Tesco law” scenario which has brought many high-street firms of solicitors out in a cold sweat. Many lawyers see it as being the beginning of the end for high street firms that rely on domestic conveyancing to earn their crust as they would simply not be able to compete on price with a large scale operation that could “sausage process” huge volumes of transactions. I haven’t seen the full report and if anyone knows the link to it please pass it on.
Most solicitors dealing with members of the public (i.e as opposed to corporate lawyers acting for large businesses) pride themselves on being able to give a personal service to clients and to empathise with them, something which Tesco law will never do. However, people are price sensitive, especially in the current climate, and that may well be the decisive factor for many. I think that whereas consumers may be prepared to instruct Tescos to draft their will for them, or even to buy/sell their house, they won’t be interested in using Tescos to conduct their divorce or any legal dispute where there is any emotional involvement for them (e.g a serious personal injury, a building dispute or, dare I say it, a claim for unfair dismissal). In those cases I think most people would prefer to use a solicitor, but this may turn out to be a forlorn hope; we shall see.
There was another heartening statistic from the report. 83% of people who had used a solicitor in the last five years was said to be satisfied with the service they received. Call me a pessimist but I would have guessed this figure to be much lower. It must reflect the huge focus there has been over the years by solicitors to provide a good service to their clients and to treat them as individuals, rather than cattle fodder; that’s how my firm endeavours to work and we get most of our new clients in through word of mouth recommendation. We hardly ever advertise and do not accept or pay for work from claims farmers. I do think though that the days of the solicitor general practitioner are over. There is simply too much law out there for anyone to be able to cover all of it. When I qualified, fifteen years ago, I did personal injury, crime, conveyancing, wills and probate, general litigation, and anything else that came through the door. It didn’t really work then and it certainly doesn’t now. These days I only do employment, related litigation and some Claimant personal injury work. The way forward is to know your subject well and to specialise. The fairly encouraging results of this survey suggest we might just get the chance to do this.
I feel another poll coming on, please feel free to contribute and/or to comment,
P.S The report shows ethnic minorities regard the ability of banks and supermarkets to provide legal services more favourably, although no explanation is reported as to why this might be. Are solicitors institutionally racist? I sincerely hope not and don’t believe it to be the case. Does it reflect the increased chance that ethnic minorities are not as well off in comparison with the majority and thus cannot afford to employ a solicitor? Much more likely in my view.
(1) Law Society Gazette 28th May 2009 – http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/survey-finds-consumers-sceptical-about-banks-and-supermarkets-legal-services