Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures
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.