As a solicitor of over 50 years’ qualification, I have a very different take from that expressed by 360 Legal Group’s Viv Williams in a recent blog. Mr Williams is the latest in a long line of doom-mongers.
Deregulation merely opens the door to commercial interests. It does not release solicitors from the ever-increasing burden of regulation, reflected in the latest round of COLP and COFA requirements. It will not assist commercial interests unless ‘outcomes-focused’ becomes another way of saying ‘the end justifies the means’.
The truth is that ‘commercial interests’ view the provision of legal services as rich pickings. Competition is not new and indeed solicitors are far more resourceful and competitive than Mr Williams credits. How else could we have survived all the cuts, increases in overheads, and the maize of regulation and bureaucracy?
I am not in a position to judge whether ‘many firms have provided the same below par services, charged by the hour, at an unacceptable standard’. However, we do have to declare our hourly rate, which reflects to a significant degree the overheads imposed upon us. I wonder how many chief executives in industry would be prepared to disclose their hourly rate. They are even paid a bonus for failure. We are not.
Those now eyeing the legal profession perhaps believe ‘the grass is greener’ - forgetting that it still needs mowing. Remember how they poured into estate agency then back out again? ‘Predictions are that solicitor numbers will decline,’ says Mr Williams. The real reasons for this are:As for ‘below par services’, it is an unfortunate fact that there has been a consistent demand for the profession to produce the highest possible standards at cut-price costs. It is an equation that simply does not balance. The truth is you cannot expect Rolls Royce treatment at ‘old banger’ prices.
- The huge cost of qualification, allied with years of study, followed by poor rates of pay that will deter many potential entrants;
- Those solicitors looking to retire are faced with very significant problems; including the necessity of securing six years’ runoff on PII. They will wisely jump ship when the opportunity arises.
Mr Williams says other national brands will succeed ‘by providing services at a price those customers can afford, which offer exceptional client care’. However, he forgets the fundamental principle that ‘you get what you pay for’. Provided we have a genuinely level playing field, we will beat the institutions hands down. Unfortunately, the stranglehold of regulation means we always have both hands tied behind our backs.
Goodwill may not be as assured as in the past, but a good reputation built on trust, integrity, hard work and talent will go a very long way. These attributes are still to be found embedded in the legal profession but are in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of the changing legal services market.
Michael Vincent, Jasper & Vincent, Southampton