Finding a lawyer to be as easy as buying baked beans
New rules on the provision of legal services mean that we'll all soon have much greater choice when expert advice is needed.
The way we use lawyers is set to be revolutionised later this year when the Legal Services Act (LSA) comes into effect. You might not realise it yet, but this really is good news.
When most of us need a lawyer, it seems that our method of choosing one is not altogether scientific – in fact we don't really have a clue how to find a good one – and surveys of the legal sector have consistently shown that we find lawyers unapproachable and not particularly customer focused.
Not much better than a used car salesman
One survey last year put lawyers just above used car salesmen in the eyes of consumers.
The days of sticking a pin in the Yellow Pages however, and hoping for the best when we're selling our house, want to discuss making a Will, or need to make a claim should hopefully be consigned to history when the new provisions are introduced in two months' time.
The “Tesco Law”
When the LSA was being debated in Parliament, one minister argued that buying legal services should be as easy as buying a can of baked beans – and the nickname Tesco Law was born.
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Finding a decent lawyer might not become quite as easy as picking up a tin of Heinz, but the new system will do a great deal to increase choice and competitiveness.
At present only lawyers are allowed to provide legal services to the public. Come October, any company that passes a “fit and proper” test will be allowed to do so.
Big named brands
The UK legal market is worth around £20bn annually so it’s no great surprise that many big name brands have started to explore ways they can get a slice of this lucrative market.
The Co Op bank has already started a pilot scheme in Bristol offering free legal advice to customers, while the AA, Saga and Halifax have all expressed interest in setting up their own law shops. It remains to be seen whether legal customers will be prepared to entrust life changing transactions such as a divorce or a house purchase to advisors operating in a less regulated marketplace.
Many may choose to continue to use the traditional high street lawyer. But that marketplace is set to change too.
One national grouping of lawyers, Quality Solicitors, is now promoting its brand with a high profile TV advertising campaign and a distinctive, colourful makeover of its 170 branches.
In the clearest indication yet of how the LSA is set to transform the high street, Quality Solicitors has just signed a deal with WH Smith that will see the opening in August of “legal access points” at 150 WH Smith stores throughout the country – increasing to 500 over the coming months.
In a clear distancing from the perception of some high street solicitors, Quality Solicitors says on its website that its lawyers aren’t “stuffy” or “intimidating”.
Traditional high street solicitors, not noted for their slick marketing techniques are understandably nervous about the moves. By October however, it’s clear they will have to up their game considerably if they are to survive in the new environment.
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The legal lottery
For many, the need for a lawyer arises at a time of extreme stress in their lives – divorce, death in the family and personal injury are some of the reasons why we have to consult solicitors.
This means that we don’t always exercise the care required when taking the important step of appointing a legal advisor. But the increasing complexity of the law means it's crucial to do proper research and go to a lawyer who's a specialist in a particular area.
You wouldn't go to a heart surgeon to have your hip replaced. Why go to a tax lawyer when you've been discriminated against at work? The transparency that will result from the more flexible LSA environment means it should be easier to find a lawyer equipped to deal with a specific problem.
Incredibly 77% of people who employ a solicitor do so without shopping around to compare prices. In these austere times, it’s hard to imagine us adopting the same attitude to the purchase of any other type of professional service.
But the anticipation of the increased competitiveness to be brought by the LSA has seen the emergence of a slew of legal price comparison websites. From now on there’s simply no excuse not to get a good deal when using a solicitor.
Price guidance, areas of expertise of individual solicitors and feedback are now available on sites like wigster.com, lawcomparison.co.uk and CompareLegalCosts.com. Who would have thought it? Legal advice at the click of a mouse.