I probably understand the legal sector better than most average Joes, but the process of actually choosing a lawyer is still terrifying.
Do I judge based on cost? If that’s not an issue, then how expensive should the service get before I back away? Should I ask for a fixed fee and if so how can I tell that is good value?
How can I judge the quality of the firm? If they are bigger does that make them better or will I become ‘just another client’ and my case left to fester in a mountain of others?
Every law firm website out there will tell you they put clients first (some will even claim this is what sets them apart). This hardly helps.
How about comparison sites? There’s a few out there now, but if anything they simply emphasise the dazzling array of choice out there. And how do you know that firms rated highly aren’t paying for such a position?
Four years ago, the last time I chose a conveyancer, I opted for the cheapest option and got stung. This was a classic conveyor belt job carried out by unqualified juniors and the service was so awful it almost ruined my house purchase and came back to bite me even this year (professional negligence solicitors, apply here now).
So this time it was different. I chose the tried and tested and went on recommendation.
The result was a classic high street practice: traditional name, correspondence posted, office closed for lunch each day.
At times it was trying. The lunch closing was a particular irritant, as was the attempt to have a chat during the tiny window I had for sorting matters out. We weren’t always aware how the case was progressing and there was a sense that things would be done when they’re done.
In short, exactly the type of firm that is supposed to go extinct in the years to come.
So why was it such an ultimately positive experience? It may be my solicitor recognising my voice, or that he recalled my children’s names. It may be that he insisted on us coming in to do things in person, or that he sounded as happy as I was to complete the process.
This firm was like a member of the family: not without their imperfections but you love them all the more for them.
And they worked on a fixed fee – something to bear in mind the next time a new fixed fee service tells you they’ve reinvented the wheel.
The cost was higher than four years ago but you get what you pay for: an experienced, fastidious professional in all senses.
The high street will obviously face pitfalls in the years to come and everyone will have to modernise to some extent.
But there really is no substitute for good service and a personal touch. The very things that doom-mongers say will kill off the high street – tradition, old-fashioned values and failure to move with the times – could be its saviours.