Yesterday morning I visited QualitySolicitors Freeman Harris for a free consultation. For those who haven’t heard, the firm is believed to be the first to open inside a shopping centre.
I visited not as a journalist, but as a customer. I have never instructed a solicitor but, then again, I know very few people my age that have; so I should say at the outset that I cannot compare the service I received from QS Freeman Harris with the service I have received from a ‘traditional’ law firm. I should also say that I walked through the door with an open mind.
To all intents and purposes, QS Freeman Harris resembles a shop rather than a law firm office. This is helped, in no small part, by the fact that it is inside a shopping centre, adjacent to Poundland and opposite Boots. The bright pink-and-black theme caught my eye amid the drab tiled floor and artificial lighting of the concourse, along which a gaggle of schoolchildren were throwing sweets at each other.
As I scanned the glass shop front, I was struck not by the giant Lara Croft-esque cartoon solicitor posing next to Poundland, but by the age of the clientele. At a guess, nobody was older than 30. Not that the shop was packed – there were four customers – but then again, it was half past nine in the morning.
As I walked in through an open door, one of the staff, probably in his early 20s and resplendent in branded polo shirt and name badge, greeted me with a smile. The shop front is spacious, containing two small tables complete with padded chairs, a rack of advice leaflets, a private consultation room and a small reception desk below a beaming QS Freeman Harris logo. We walked to a table and, still standing, discussed the first of my worries: an outstanding county court claim against a dodgy internet retailer.
In less than five minutes he had advised me that, because I had already won summary judgment, there was little that a solicitor could do to further the claim. He said that the best course of action, should I wish to continue pursuing the claim, would be to contact the court and get them to send in the bailiffs. ‘But,’ I asked, ‘why should I risk paying a £100 enforcement fee on top of the £25 court fee to try and recoup the £80 that my claim was worth?’ ‘That’s the unfortunate problem with low-value claims and dodgy companies,’ he said candidly.
We moved to my second worry: a dispute with the police over a Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme claim. After a couple of minutes’ chat, my adviser stopped me. ‘Our personal injury guy is here,’ he said. ‘I’m going to get him to talk to you now.’ We were promptly joined at our table by an older man – probably in his early 30s – who had forsaken branded clothing for suit and tie (I learned later that he was a solicitor from Freeman Harris’s head office in Bermondsey). The younger man left us to talk, and went to greet a young lady who had just walked through the door.
After 10 or so minutes spent sifting through my papers and talking about the background of the claim, the solicitor – more serious in demeanour but affable nonetheless – told me that he’d like to take the case further. An appointment would be arranged at Freeman Harris’s Bermondsey office within the week, so that we could go through the specifics in more detail, and determine for sure whether or not I have a claim. When I raised the subject of fees, he told me that if the case proceeded, I would pay a contingency fee of 15-20% of any compensation received, and nothing if the claim failed.
I decided to take him up on the offer, having exhausted all other options (and, of course, so that I could report back further on the QualitySolicitors experience). We were joined again by the younger assistant, who jotted down my personal details in a private consultation room, before I walked to the door (passing the personal injury solicitor, who was already chatting with another customer) and out onto the concourse. Just 25 minutes had elapsed, and I had paid a grand total of zero pounds for advice received.
I have to say, I left a happy customer. I felt at ease and well looked after throughout, and upon leaving, glad that my problems, if not yet resolved, were being dealt with.
But what is most interesting is that I had never once considered taking these problems to a ‘traditional’ high street law firm – which, once the branding is stripped away, is what Freeman Harris is. My gut instinct was that a traditional law firm would not be interested in helping me with such trivial matters, and would cost too much. These of course are preconceptions based on feeling rather than fact, but nevertheless they were enough to stop me seeking advice. And, judging by the profile of customers in QS Freeman Harris, it appears that others in my generation have the same sentiments.