Lawyers’ grievances over accountants moving into probate work must be countered by a desire to fight the competition.

Chartered accountant Kingston Smith is the first firm to be authorised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) to carry out probate work. The ICAEW claims to be expecting 250 further applications.

Lawyer attitudes to this news remind me of that description of American forces stationed in Britain during the war – overpaid, overfed, over-sexed and over here. A natural envy has to be countered by the fact that we needed them, just as lawyers need accountants.

Understandably, the accountants are not the sort to let such an obvious opportunity pass them by.

But what are private client solicitors doing to ensure that they get a call first when a client with a will dies?

I wondered what my sons would have done if my husband and I had perished in an accident together on holiday this year and failed to return. As yet, I have not told them where to find any important documents so they would have to snoop around the office, and the higgledy-piggledy study at home.

We last moved house 14 years ago, and all that paperwork is firmly at the back of the attic, not in the study! They could easily find the details of our bank and financial adviser (other potential competitors).

If they came to my office and asked the team which lawyer I use, depending on who they ask, the staff might give them details of lawyers at three different firms for employment, commercial and IP advice. My husband’s staff would point them to another set of lawyers for commercial property.

Not sure where to turn, and in need of money, they would probably ask our book-keeper who would simply pass over the bright-yellow folder provided by our accountant with all their relevant contact details and checklists… and before you know it, our accountant would have a probate client.

When your firm produces a will, how do you ensure that bereaved relatives will come directly to you?

Whilst I know some firms who take a very enlightened approach to client relationship management for private clients, they are in the minority. Private client contact databases are often in a mess, particularly those that date back decades. Yet these are the future probate clients. 

Since the recession, fewer law firms are prepared to invest in something like a folder, or even a regular newsletter, for their private clients, viewing the cost as an erosion of an already-slim profit margin. 

However, unless a firm invests in the lifelong relationship, they will not benefit from the lifetime value of a client. The accountants see how neglected many clients are by their lawyers – and see an opportunity to swoop in and pick up that juicy work.

Like those US servicemen, the accountants will not be hesitant in putting themselves forward!

Sue Bramall is managing director of Berners Marketing and advises law firms in the UK and overseas