Jeremy Harvey is managing partner at Coodes Solicitors, a long-standing legal firm established in 1747 by the Coode family. Coodes has seven offices across Cornwall and Devon, offering specialist legal expertise for both individuals and businesses
By 2012 it’s likely that you’ll be able to pick up a package of legal support along with your weekly shop at the supermarket. This is because the Legal Services Act 2007, dubbed “Tesco Law”, is bringing about a relaxation of the monopoly currently enjoyed by the legal profession, allowing others to enter the market place.
For those using legal services at all levels, this has interesting ramifications. The consumer will have a wider choice from which to access legal advice, but will that be a good thing?
Supermarkets have a great deal going for them – convenience, price, consistency of quality, customer service etc – things that the consumer perceives as important. And there will be
perceived benefits with their new legal services – better access such as website or telephone services and more transparent pricing.
However, there will also be many downsides. The service provided will be very much on their terms. For instance, you won’t be able to haggle fees, just as you can’t negotiate the price of the contents of your shopping trolley.
Quality is also likely to be a casualty. Clients will get a service, but it will never be the best. There is nothing that can really replace the expertise, local knowledge and flexibility of a specialist, local provider.
Consider the impact that supermarkets have had on our high streets – electrical shops, clothes shops and ironmongers etc are now very hard to find. The affect has been devastating. And their entry into the legal market may very well have the same affect on the legal sector.
We can trot out all the things that people like to say about the legal profession – costly, slow, distant. While there may well be justification for these complaints, behind the service that is currently supplied there is a huge wealth of knowledge and experience that we risk losing if we allow a corporate takeover of local law firms.
Ultimately, however, it is all about client perception in a market place which is soon to become saturated by family favourite brands which consumers have come to trust.
In response, law firms will need to consider how they present themselves to ensure that the message about service and value for money is put across clearly. They will need to think commercially and consider their position, taking a long, hard look at the way they have delivered their service in the past, assessing whether that is the way in which its customers want the service now.
We also need to look very carefully at the way in which potential competitors will provide their service – noting that some of the things they do, they do very well.
It is fair to say that some firms have already started to address these issues, and they have a sporting chance of being among the survivors. The rest of the profession will need to follow suit if they are to avoid being swallowed up by the corporates.
There may not be many who would actually mourn the loss of the local solicitor, but once lost, what is left will be a serious compromise on quality and knowledge. So, buy local and still support your local law firms – but insist that they adapt and deliver a service that is what you want and not just dictated by them.
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