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When is a quality mark not a quality mark?


Restell: proper information would be far more useful for consumers than quality marks

Posted by Louise Restell, head of public and legal affairs at Legal Futures Associate Russell Jones & Walker [2]

So only 200 conveyancing firms have signed up to the Law Society’s conveyancing quality scheme? I don’t know how many conveyancing firms there are, but I’m going to make an educated guess that there’s several more than that.

Perhaps the ones who haven’t signed up have read the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s research into quality in legal services. Or perhaps not. Either way, there is a real question about how valuable quality marks are when buying legal services.

Consumers aren’t stupid – they are perfectly able to understand the purpose of a quality mark. The problem, as reported on Legal Futures in November [3], is that consumers assume all solicitors are technically competent anyway and closely monitored by a regulator (don’t know where they got that impression from…). So they are far more likely to go on personal recommendations when choosing a lawyer and judge them on their service standards.

Quality marks are valued by consumers in other areas. The Trust Mark scheme [4] run by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) covers a wide range of trades, from builders to tree surgeons to satellite TV installers. But these are unregulated trades where a wise consumer would do more than just rely on word of mouth .

The OFT also runs a consumer codes approval scheme [5], covering trade bodies as diverse as carpet fitters, direct selling organisations and our old favourite, professional will-writers. These codes focus primarily on customer care issues, such as clear information, fair contracts and independent complaints-handling, rather than the standard of the work per se. They are probably less understood by consumers, but in unregulated areas (yes, including will-writing) they do have some value.

The difference with lawyers is that they are already regulated and, even if this regulation isn’t properly understood, are seen to be so by consumers. Far more useful than just slapping quality marks all over websites or shop windows would be providing consumers with proper information about the law to help them identify and solve their own problems and know the standards they should expect when they do ultimately feel they have to go to a lawyer. Take this as my overt plug for public legal education.

My own personal favourite quality mark is Investors in People, something any organisation can work for (indeed I worked for them for a number of years). It’s been around for over 20 years now and I would say quite a few people have heard of it. You can see the Investors in People plaque gracing many a reception desk and foyer, so it’s obviously meant for consumers to see and think ‘ah yes, they invest in their people, marvellous’. But do any of them know what it really means?

I rest my case.