The Law Society today announced the creation of an accreditation scheme for firms providing will-drafting, probate and estate administration services to enable solicitors to ‘stand head and shoulders’ above competing providers.
Desmond Hudson, chief executive, told the Society’s private client conference that the Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme (WIQS) will help firms create ‘national branding opportunities to compete with national brands’.
He said that in an increasingly competitive and fast-moving market, firms need to ‘provide a differentiation’ so that their services ‘stand head and shoulders above the rest’.
It is ‘not a prudent planning assumption’ for firms to believe they have a natural hold on the market, Hudson warned.
He pointed to ‘significant drivers’ that are changing the market, including legal services provided by SAGA, AA and the Co-operative and businesses such as Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer, whose models are designed to eliminate the need for solicitors.
Other threats he noted were the application by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to become a probate regulator and CILEx’s move to obtain licensing powers to authorise will and inheritance services. Solicitors, he said, are getting a declining share of the probate market.
‘Implicit in this approach is that simply being a solicitor is not enough. We need to add more value,’ said Hudson. The scheme, he said, will give firms a ‘clear point of differentiation from those with infrequent experience, generalists and new market entrants’.
Hudson rejected what he called a ‘cynically suggested’ view by critics that the new scheme is a money-making exercise for the Law Society. ‘This is not true. This is about positioning solicitors as the natural place to go. That the role of solicitors is vital in the market,’ he insisted.
The scheme, which costs £350 + VAT a year, will open for applications on 31 October. It is aimed at SRA-regulated practices that offer will-drafting, probate and estate administration services.
The Society said applicants will undergo a ‘rigorous assessment’ and will be required to undertake compulsory training, self-reporting, random audits and annual reviews in order to maintain the new status.
It provides a protocol setting out the obligations and standards that members must adhere to, plus training, development and marketing support.
The launch of the accreditation scheme follows the government’s decision earlier this year not to regulate will-writing, despite a long-running campaign by the Law Society and a recommendation to do so by the Legal Services Board.
The scheme is designed to reinforce the benefits of instructing a solicitor rather than other practitioners.
Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: ‘It is a common consumer misconception that only solicitors prepare wills, but there are many other service providers in today's market.
‘For consumers to make informed choices, it is important that they are able to distinguish between those that are unregulated, uninsured and untrained, and our members' practices that specialise in this area and offer a quality service.
‘For consumer protection this means that the only prudent choice is to instruct a solicitor to prepare your will.’
The scheme will be promoted to the public from January 2014. Law firms are invited to register for an online introduction to the scheme via a free Law Society webinar, which takes place at midday next Friday (12 July).