The chief executive of national law firm Russell Jones & Walker (RJW) has questioned the ability of large solicitors’ consortiums to provide clients with a consistent service across the board.
Speaking in a panel discussion at Netlaw Media’s recent Key strategies for law firms 2011 conference in London, Neil Kinsella stressed the importance of independence and consistency.
Other members of the panel, chaired by Professor Stephen Mayson, were representatives from the QualitySolicitors and HighStreetLawyer.com networks, and Birmingham firm Blakemores, which owns the Lawyers2you brand.
Mr Kinsella said RJW wished to remain an independent brand. “Independence is important for law firms”, he said, as is “the delivery of consistent services”. He was sceptical that collectives of solicitors could maintain consistency across their member firms.
He likened the task of organising partners in a firm of RJW’s size, on occasion, to “herding cats”. He joked that imposing standards across hundreds of law firms must be “like herding cats with a blind, three-legged sheepdog”.
Responding, Saleem Arif, co-founder of QualitySolicitors – which aims to have 300 member firms by October – said he accepted the importance of his network providing training “to ensure consistency”.
He pointed out the QualitySolicitors model preserved the independence of member firms and underlined the fact that a member firm was due to be ejected from the network  for failing to meet standards.
Gary Yantin, managing director of HighStreetLawyer.com, said the opportunities for winning work under a brand with public recognition would be essential if smaller firms are to compete with new entrants after October.
Guy Barnett, managing partner of Blakemores – which runs Lawyer2you stands in West Midlands shopping centres – said each firm should carry out a “due diligence exercise” before deciding whether or not to join a consortium.
Joining would “bring speed [and] get you out there very quickly”, he said, but added that Blakemores had been a member of consortiums in the past without success.
The firm had chosen instead to “go it alone, to believe in our own practice’s ability to deliver a brand”. While it was “slower and a learning curve”, he said, “the reward for us is that it enables us to offer a bespoke service to clients”.
Introducing the conference, Professor Mayson said that in order to survive, law firms need proactively to tailor services to client needs and shape potential clients’ thoughts about what services they might pay for, before it was too late.
With ever-fewer opportunities for direct access to clients, firms must consider how to win work in the future and whether to join branded networks, he continued.
Lastly, firms had to address changing the “psychology of lawyers” to become sufficiently business-minded to compete, he said.