The first will-writer to be granted an alternative business structure (ABS) licence says she hopes others will follow suit so as to “level the playing field” with solicitors.
Parchment Law Group became the and Valerie Shiman said she has been in favour of regulating will-writers since she launched her Gerrards Cross business in 1989.
She was a founder member and later president of the Institute of Professional Willwriters, which has long campaigned for regulation of the sector and wants to take on a regulatory role once the Legal Services Board makes a final decision to make will-writing a reserved legal activity.
Ms Shiman said she did not want to wait for that to embrace regulation and has gone into partnership with private client solicitor Helen Whiteley to become an ABS and “level the playing field” with solicitors; there are two other fee-earners. “It just gives us a great opportunity to do what I always wanted to do and offer more services, particularly reserved services.”
She continued: “I’m hoping a lot of good [will-writers] follow suit and that we will be a role model. This is a huge opportunity to step up a level.”
Ms Shiman said solicitors could learn from will-writers and vice versa. “Solicitors can learn from will-writers’ expertise in running a business and marketing, and will-writers can learn from solicitors’ professionalism.”
She said the firm would be looking to move into conveyancing work – as an adjunct to its probate business – but not unrelated activities such as family law or litigation. Parchment is to apply for accreditation under the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme first, and maybe Lexcel too.
Until now Ms Shiman has had to farm work out to solicitors, which posed risks around losing clients and also quality of work. She was a member of the put together by the Legal Services Consumer Panel to judge the quality of wills written by various types of provider and which found faults in all, including by solicitors.
She said all the members of the group were surprised by the results, which she attributed to “a lot of people not taking their CPD seriously” or just dabbling in this area of work.
Ms Shiman was one of the first 10 ABS applicants to return their stage 2 applications to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and has waited nearly four months to receive approval for it. She said she was impressed by the “very thorough and rigorous process” the SRA went through before granting her a licence, although she thought “the SRA appears to be overwhelmed by the number of applicants”.