Why does everyone hate QualitySolicitors?

Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures

QualitySolicitors: irritating lawyers up and down the land

OK, I exaggerated with that headline to get you in. And I know a lot of you are now reading because QualitySolicitors (QS) generates more response than pretty much any story going at the moment.

In the wake of a light-hearted tweet I posted yesterday while on holiday in Cornwall about my first ever sighting of a QS branded office – QualitySolicitors Nalders in Newquay – I received a few grumbles about the amount of coverage Legal Futures is giving to QS. I am far from alone – the Gazette receives far more and in rather more vitriolic tones, dare I say.

It led me to wonder why QS generates so much emotion in the profession.

I make no apology for covering QS. QS, by any definition of the word, is news. Yes, it’s a commercial venture, but we write about what lawyers are doing, and a lot of them are doing this, while others are trying to do something similar.

Also, to put it bluntly, QS brings people to this site – our recent exclusive giving a first look at the WHSmith Legal Access Point was the second-most viewed story in the 16 months we’ve been going. The follow-up about the actual launch with Amanda Holden (and we don’t get pictures of celebrities livening up this site very often) has also been keenly read.

This is because, love it or hate it, people are watching what QS is doing very, very closely. It is, I suppose, the blessing and curse of being the first mover. As I’ve written before, QS is doing nothing that someone else couldn’t have done a decade ago and I can’t help but wonder if there are a few people kicking themselves that they didn’t.

There are plenty of legitimate questions around QS, such as about the business model and the amount of money it takes from member firms. But some of the stuff I hear is just petty. Just try getting a meeting at their offices in Leicester, one conspiracy theorist said to me. You can’t – they’ll always come to you. (Chief executive Craig Holt, who has invited me to Leicester to prove the offices exist, says simply that they are not the kind of offices you would invite potential members to – I have exactly the same kind of office.)

Then there are those who are snobbish. “I wouldn’t want the kind of client who finds their lawyer in WHSmith,” one well-known solicitor said in a conference I chaired not too long ago. Why? Is it that much more objectionable than, say, TV advertising? Anyway, if he doesn’t want them, there are plenty of firms that seem quite happy to find their clients this way.

There are lots of knockers of the tie-up with WHSmith, with the argument that it is a weak brand chief among the objections. As Louise Restell – who has worked on both the consumer and law firm side of the legal services divide (for Which? and Russell Jones & Walker respectively) – cogently explained in a blog this week, solicitors might prefer to see themselves at the John Lewis end of the high street, but the WHSmith deal is about accessibility. More potential clients visit WHSmith than John Lewis, fine shop though it is. Accessibility is also about being open in the evenings and weekends.

And the thing I really don’t get about the negativity towards QS is that, rather than some faceless, amoral, profit-hungry mega-institution bulldozing its way into the market with an army of paralegals, indiscriminately squashing good, decent solicitors in its wake, QS is made up of a large group of traditional law firms. Yes, they’ve taken the plunge to do something different in their marketing, but that’s about it.

Is it jealousy that provokes this negativity? A very British sense of wanting to knock-down a cocky upstart? A strong belief in the traditional way of running law firms? I just don’t know.

But don’t mistake all this with me being a blind, QS fan-boy. To be honest, I’m pretty agnostic about most things because it helps in reporting them. That doesn’t mean I don’t have views – blogging would be a tough activity without them – but I’m not invested in the success or failure of QS like those competing with it.

My only investment, in the interests of complete transparency, is that QS is a Legal Futures Associate at standard level, meaning it pays £500 a year to be listed in the Services Directory and have its logo revolving with all the other Associates on the right-hand side of this page. I’m pleased to have them on board, but that £500 will not make or break Legal Futures and in no way affects my coverage of them. Feel free to become an Associate too – it’s a great deal.

So I wish QS well. Because rather than sitting back, wringing their hands and carping, those behind QS and the firms in the network have chosen to take the initiative. I wouldn’t like to predict whether they’ll succeed – history in other sectors may even suggest that it will be the next iteration, learning from QS’s mistakes, that does – but Legal Futures will continue to report the twists and turns of the QS story.

PS You’ll get the chance to put your questions to Craig Holt, along with Gary Yantin of HighStreetLawyer.com and Ray Gordon of face2face solicitors, at the next Legal Futures Conference, New ways to practise law, which will be held on 17 October in London. Full details will be released next week.


    Readers Comments

  • Good article and thanks for the mention Neil!

    In the interests of complete transparency I should add that I am being paid to write the QS blog, but it won’t all be about QS and I don’t think they are expecting me just to write nice things about them. I have, after all, built my reputation on saying what I think (and gawd bless them RJW put up with it for quite a while)!

  • Katy Turner says:

    Well done to anyone who is standing under the QS umbrella – although it seems odd that their “brand” does not seem to be consistent in every firm – does Grabbit and Run LLP in Rochdale have the same service standards for clients as Posh Bloke Et Al LLP in London? I suspect not. As for Amanda Holden in an advertising campaign – if I were putting money up to be a part of QS, I’d not want to be paying her fees for talking such rubbish – using expressions like “kosher’ and “rip off’ was quite bizarre – although it has had the desired result hasn’t it? We’re talking about them!!

  • Jeff Dawson says:

    There will be other models of network springing up in the near future. I am sure Neil Rose will equally be interested in reporting the development of such propositions. In the meantime he is merely reporting news items of interest and long may he do so. One thing is for sure, Quality solicitors will have competition and just as the consumer has a choice, solicitors will have choices on who best serves theirs and their customers needs. Watch this space as they say…..

  • I don’t see any problem with QS.

    When I started the first virtual law firm (as the media called it) in 1996, I received a lot of silly comment and I now think this comes from those who feel threatened by change.

    I do wish QS well. Personally, I don’t feel commercially worried by them and suspect many members will leave in the next year or two when a high % of them do not get the return they think they should have.

    But at least they seem well run which is more than we can see in many law firms, sadly. Good lawyers but bad managers for the most part–these days = a dangerous combination.

  • I met Craig Holt at the brilliant Conscious Solutions conference. I’m sure he’s well able to deal with any flak and loving that there’s so much talk about QS right now. Crai impressed me enormously and i take my hat off to him for seeing the future. there’s no doubt in my mind that the entire landscape of ‘high street’ legal services will look completely different within 3 to 5 years and people will look back and recognise the role that people like Craig, Gary Yantin et al had in spearheading those changes.

  • Joe Reevy says:

    I think it is mainly down to the name and the strapline ‘the best solicitors, chosen by you’. Almost all the solicitors I know who aren’t in QS see the name as an attempt to tar the rest of the profession as not being ‘quality’ and the strapline as intended to give the incorrect impression that some sort of public consultation has taken place which has identified those firms with the best service standards (as indeed, Ms Holden seems to have implied).

    They don’t feel the same way about HSL or Wigster – nor indeed, has anyone I know ever taken against LawNet, Law Group, 360, Connect2Law, UK200 et al which do some of the same sort of things QS says it is doing for its members.

  • John Russell says:

    I’m sorry but the name is nothing to do with it. The difference with HSL and Wigster is they are not seen as a threat. QS, on the other hand, which is light years ahead, very much is. Equally, LawNet etc are nothing like the same attempt to take work from other firms that QS is. QS is worrying firms – that is it. The whole Amanda Holden thing just provided people with some perceived justification for expressing their vitriolic views – hence the mock ‘outrage’. QS is the future and those not part of it want to knock it.

  • I wish those signed up to QS well. I understand the desire to create a high street brand that will compete with the bigger brands that are coming into the legal market place over the coming months and years.

    The difficulty I have with the QS approach is that it misses one huge point. What the competition from banks and supermarkets will do is provide the services in a new way. It will be cheaper and it will be how the public want it.

    If the banks and building societies (or even estate agents) go after conveyancing work for example the clients will have a lawyer long before they go to WH Smiths for their newspaper. Likewise when the insurers target RTA clients they will be signed up before the accident!

    I cannot help but see QS as a large re-brand so that firms can carry on exactly as before and compete. But if what we were doing was what the public wanted the other providers would not be keen on coming in. I asked someone who works at a recently QS rebranded firm how the firm had changed since they joined QS. The answer was that it hadn’t.

    Advertising and branding are not enough to create something that lasts. Ask the original producers of Sunny Delight. The services have to be provided in a way the market wants not how the market wants to provide them.

    I doubt the QS will have the funds to compete for market place once the really big players enter the market place.

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