The Institute of Professional Will Writers (IPW) has appointed a solicitor to be its first chief executive, as part of a radical overhaul of the organisation that it hopes will involve licensing legal services businesses.
Sally Brown has been charged with the task of creating “a mechanism that will enable its members to provide regulated legal services”, such as conveyancing and contentious probate, the institute said.
Meanwhile, a commercial training and support network that is also a membership organisation is set to enter the will-writing market early next year, offering many of the services already delivered by the two main representative bodies in the field – the IPW and the Society of Will Writers (SWW).
The Estate Planners Network (EPN) would be the third membership organisation in the will-writing and estate planning industry, and claimed to have spotted a gap in the market for a “an alternative to the two established bodies”.
Ms Brown is a former probate and conveyancing partner at midlands firm Sharrotts, and took up the chief executive position last week. The IPW said the move was a “game changer”: “Sally has the skills to enable the IPW… to create a mechanism that will enable its members to provide regulated legal services.
“There is much legal work which, although regulated, is reasonably transactional. The council has identified this as an area where benefits that might otherwise go into the pockets of shareholders, investors or partners of third party law firms can be retained by the Institute and its members.”
Over the next five months there will be a handover period of responsibilities from the chairman, Paul Sharpe, to Ms Brown – who is the IPW’s first full-time manager. Her job was advertised in August at a basic salary of £40,000 with “targeted bonuses of up to £10,000”. In 2011, the Legal Service Consumer Panel estimated the IPW had around 200 members compared to the SWW’s 2,000.
The IPW would in future enable its members to provide legal services including conveyancing, trust drafting, and contentious probate. Other benefits it aims to offer members include pre-paid funeral plans, document storage, and direct debit collection by using “group buying power”.
Taken together, the IPW’s roadmap was an “ambitious plan – almost a re-invention of the institute”. It predicted: “It’s important to understand that the emphasis for the institute existing has now changed and that [it] will look a lot different 12 months from now.”
Michael Brown, EPN’s head of network services, said the network would be launched around the end of January 2014. The network is a limited company and part of the Legacy Probate Services group, which describes itself as “a new concept in the private client sector providing a source of complete services for professionals in private client practices”, including trust and estate services, conveyancing and wills.
He said EPN would be aiming to recruit 500 members in the first year, both existing will writers and new entrants to the industry.
Mr Brown, who spent six years working at the SWW, ending up as its general manager, said the directors of EPN had industry experience as well as commercial backgrounds, such as financial services and insurance. He admitted: “Obviously it’s not going to be easy for us just to enter the market and recruit members; we will have to give a good service to our members when we bring them on board and offer something different”.
Mr Brown said EPN members would be offered training courses, and technology such as iPhone apps and multimedia presentations. “We want to try and bring the industry into the 21st century, by offering more technological solutions… [and] raise the awareness of writing wills, and also to provide a support system for independent will writers.
“One of the problems is that will writers are out in the field on their own a lot of the time and they do need back-up, not just within will writing and those fields, but also generally to help them in their businesses.”
He said the EPN would compete on price, but that it “will be hopefully fairly down the list of why people want to join us”. The main reason would be “because they are getting a quality service – some of the products and solutions that we are working on at the moment will be new to the industry and not offered by the two that are already around”.
He said that because the industry was not regulated, there was an “expectation” EPN would offer regulatory reassurance to the public. In part to protect its own reputation, the network would require its members to abide by a code of practice and meet “stringent” entry requirements. As well as criminal and bankruptcy checks of individuals, members would have to demonstrate industry knowledge, if necessary by taking an entrance examination.