QS set to eject member as Hudson questions its appropriation of “quality” term

Panel debate (from left): Des Hudson, Michael Napier (Irwin Mitchell), Steve Arundale (RBS), Saleem Arif

Quality-Solicitors (QS) is preparing to eject a member firm for failing to meet the network’s quality standards, its chief operating officer Saleem Arif told the Legal Futures Conference yesterday.

Meanwhile, speaking on the same platform, Law Society chief executive Des Hudson questioned QS’s use of the word “quality” in the brand. He said: “One of the things we are concerned about is, is it appropriate that [the QS] firms choose to take ownership of the epithet ‘quality solicitor’? What about the other 9,870 firms?”

Mr Arif, a co-founder of QS, said the number of rebranded firms now stood at 170 and the target was for it to rise to 300 by October. The company’s recent deal with WHSmith would help QS “cover pretty much every high street, train station, airport and service station with both literature and representatives”, he said.

He would not name names, but suggested one firm would fail to meet QS’s minimum standards at an annual assessment next month, a year after the first tranche of firms joined up, adding: “If a firm is not up to standard they will be ejected and firms know that.” Explaining, he said: “Firms will be ejected if they have any serious disciplinary or financial problem.”

Earlier Mr Arif commented that after alternative business structures are allowed in October, he expected new entrants to the market to focus on price. “To try and compete with those large brands on price would be a bad mistake for the vast majority of firms who don’t have the cost base and aren’t able to compete with a volume player,” he said.

He admitted there was no way to guarantee the quality of advice given by QS members, but pointed to the fact that every QS firm had to have Lexcel accreditation or commit to having it within 12 months before it could be considered for membership. Also, firms had to have a “clean” regulatory record and provide testimonials from clients.

The question of the criteria used to vet QS firms arose recently when a Hull solicitors’ firm complained to the Advertising Standards Authority over the issue of QS using client feedback in its selection process. The claim was not upheld.

Mr Arif said QS firms were assessed on a “continuous basis” by an ex-Lexcel assessor “going around providing support and advice and ensuring each of our firms is up to scratch”. Customer feedback was also sought on any case referred to a QS member firm from the company’s call centre, he said.

Mr Hudson defended the Law Society’s record on promoting the brand awareness of the solicitors’ profession and highlighted both Lexcel and the Conveyancing Quality Scheme. The profession “needs to invest long term in promoting these brands and standards as something the public recognise”, he said.

The society’s target is to produce an equivalent brand awareness in the delivery of legal services to the Gas Safe register (formerly CORGI) in the gas heating industry, Mr Hudson said. It had to achieve this “with all the power the Law Society can muster”.

Earlier in the day, Council for Licensed Conveyancers chairwoman Anna Bradley said the CQS would bring solicitors up to the standards already met by licensed conveyancers.

Asked whether firms should be allowed to use the Law Society crest on its notepaper and web sites for marketing advantage, Mr Hudson had reservations. The society had to consider the damage that would be done to the brand if it was associated with firms “involved in a public scandal”. At the moment the plan was to use the brand in the context of endorsing accreditation, in order to maintain control over how it was used, he said.


    Readers Comments

  • Craig Holt says:

    Just to add a point of clarification to the above: all QS firms are required to allow QS to seek feedback from every single client of the firm subsequent to their rebranding (save for those few clients who opt out of doing so). This is far more comprehensive than firms simply providing referees but allows us a complete picture of the firms’ service standards across a range of different areas. The system is being redeveloped at the moment with a sophisticated scoring mechanism being implemented. Firms will be scored by clients (both during and after a case to avoid purely outcome influenced scoring) and will then be able to be benchmarked against the group average with a view to looking for areas of weakness. Where such a weakness is identified, training will be provided but if, ultimately, improvements do not occur then a firm can be removed in order to protect the intergrity of the brand. This is also useful for firms who, for the first time, have a relative measure of their services standards as opposed to their own client feedback questionnaires in isolation.

  • *disappointed sigh*

    I would be very interested to see from a brand awareness perspective, where Lexcel and CQS rank comparison to QS. Not highly, I suspect.

    The Law Society should be concentrating their efforts on promoting Brand Solicitor, not brand Lexcel. This duality of messaging around what constitutes a good solicitor coming out from the Law Society is of great concern. If you need to be Lexcel accredited or hold CQS, then what’s the point of qualifying as a solicitor? And what does it say about the SRA and their regulation of the profession if the Law Society are concerned about damage to their reputation if solicitors use the Law Society’s crest?

    And what message does this send to the public?

    Why again should solicitors not be allowed to use the Law Society crest? They do pay for it don’t they?

  • The question of how to name a new brand is a fascinating one.

    QS has taken the direct approach. I’m sure they would say “it does what it says on the tin” and I for one would not disagree.

    It’s easy for people to criticise the Quality Solicitors name, but much more difficult to come up with an alternative that everyone would be happy with. Given that the 170 firms want to keep their own name, one can see why the QS strapline works.

    Google rankings are another matter. The words Quality and Solicitors will be fought over by vast numbers of different websites. Ditto searches on social media sites. Even if you have the time and money to work your way to the top rankings, there will always be a lot of noise and clutter around those two words.

    That’s one of the many reasons why we ended up choosing the brand ‘Donut’ for our series of business advice websites, eg law firms license a customised version of Law Donut. There simply is no competition for that name. But you can test a brand: people will tell you 101 things about the brand name that you’d never thought of, and they will also give you a very clear thumbs up or thumbs down. For example, the English spelling Doughnut was confirmed to be a non-starter; and in our case, all the plain descriptive words (eg Legal Q&A) got very low marks too.

  • I found Des Hudson’s comments at the Legal Futures conference heartening. I have been trying to talk to the Law Society about promoting the Lexcel brand properly in the way that Quality Solicitors have driven their brand but regrettably, without success. I agree that the Society must put every effort in to that endeavour but I fear that by the time the talking has stopped and the action has started, the Lexcel mark will be so far behind the competition that it will struggle to catch up. It also requires, in my opinion, a highly focussed and organised approach and of course, no small amount of investment. These things can be achieved – QS proves that- but it does require the right people and the right drive.

    There was much reference during the conference to brand “solicitor” but I am not sure how relevant that is now. “Quality Solicitors” for example is not (according to the Law Society website anyway) a “solicitor” but uses the word. The popular Solicitors.co.uk is also not a “solicitor”. To my knowledge no attempt has been made to prevent use of the word in the brand name and one would have thought that with all the publicity that the Gazette gives to the QS brand, if there were willingness to protect the use of the word “solicitor” someone would have done so.

    It was interesting to hear Saleem explain that one of their measurements of quality was a requirement that the firm have Lexcel or be working towards it. I did a search on the Law Society website for Quality Solicitors and was interested to see that of the five different firms listed, none of them were listed as having Lexcel. It may be that the remaining QS firms that have not renamed themselves for the Law Society’s purposes demonstrate the heavy commitment to the Lexcel accreditation that Saleem suggested but I thought the contradiction I saw on the Society’s website was interesting and does make me wonder what percentage of the firms subscribing to the QS scheme do have Lexcel. I also wonder to what extent those firms that do not have the Lexcel accreditation but are part of the QS scheme will effectively “borrow” the the Lexcel accreditation and indeed other accreditations owned by the other firms and the QS company. For example, the QS website displays the Law Society’s excellence award for 2009 logo and the Claims Technology award for 2010. Might consumers think that those accolades are held by all the QS firms and therefore be misled ?

    I listened carefully to Saleem’s measured presentation and I am sure that I heard him explain that as part of the arrangement with WH Smith, QS would be supporting the retailer and WH Smith would be recommending QS. As I continue to trawl through the new Code of Conduct in readiness for 6th October, I am mindful that the new definition of referral includes a “recommendation” which then triggers the requirement to disclose the financial arrangement, If that is the case (and I have no doubt there will be vigorous school of thought to the contrary) then I wonder whether QS might be willing to give us details of the financial arrangement now rather than making me wait until such time as I instruct them on a matter just to find out !

  • I’m actually a little troubled about the talk of promoting Lexcel.

    It actually only says that law firms do what they ought to be doing anyway.

    Does the average client care? No, they care about their case. If they did think about the subjects covered by Lexcel, they’d be amazed at any suggestion lawyers don’t always do those things.

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