So, surprisingly, it turns out Amanda Holden is the key to the future of legal services in the high street
. Ok, so I exaggerate, but, as reported on Legal Futures
, she was positively glowing with enthusiasm about the QualitySolicitors
tie-up with WH Smith on ITV1's This Morning last week. She told the presenters “You can walk into WH Smith… there is a list that is now recommended by the public, for the public, of solicitors who are kosher, who are not going to rip you off and who can help you. And it’s completely free, you get advice free and then you can get any information you need.”
Solicitors not in the QS network would balk at the suggestion that they 'rip you off', but daytime tv is probably not the forum for discussing the regulation of solicitors. Which is just as well, because Holden, obviously carried away by enthusiasm, went on to suggest the Law Society endorsed Quality Solicitors. I expect the Law Society would balk at that suggestion, as even though I am not entirely sure what they think of the QS concept, their CEO, Des Hudson, has publicly questioned QS's use of the word 'quality'.
I have to say, I don't really understand why the Law Society hasn't been more enthusiastic about QualitySolicitors, although I accept it shouldn't endorse one commercial model over another and has to speak and act in the interests of all its members. But it seems to me that QualitySolicitors is a pretty powerful marketing tool for those small, independent, local firms who, frankly, don't really have a cat in hell's chance of competing with the likes of the Co-op, Saga or the AA. And the WH Smith deal is a pretty clever way of make the law more accessible to consumers who often don't hold the profession in high esteem. That should be music to the Law Society's ears.
As to the use of the word 'quality', while consumers undoubtedly need some help navigating the legal services market, they are intelligent enough to recognise that QualitySolicitors is a brand and does not, therefore, necessarily imply all other firms are the opposite (in fact it is worth bearing in mind that most people probably wouldn't claim Quality Street are the connoisseur's choice of chocolates, but let's not go there.)
Perhaps the Law Society is reflecting some of its members' views that WH Smith is not a suitable brand for solicitors. I've found it rather depressing to read comments along the lines that the ubiquitous high street retailer does not have the 'right image' for the law and solicitors would be better doing a tie-up with John Lewis. This completely misses the point that QualitySolicitors isn't just about quality, it's also about availability accessibility and affordability. I'm the first to admit I'm a John Lewis junkie, but if anything, a tie up with my favourite store would probably only reinforce the image of solicitors and the law as being just for well-off, middle-class people (whoever they are, I guess I must be one of them).
The same people who think John Lewis is the best place to sell consumer legal services probably think someone with more gravitas, like, say, Fiona Bruce, would have been a more appropriate champion for legal services. I have nothing against Fiona Bruce, and if she has any free time it would be great if she could put in a good word for QS, but she doesn't really hold the popular appeal of Amanda Holden, who is one of those celebs most of us have heard of even if we don't know why. And I firmly believe that the real value of the QS brand is making the law more approachable - even if I've never watched Britain's got Talent, at least 10 million people have. She's also just a little bit glamorous and, let's face it, the profession could probably do with a bit of glitz.
So while I am more likely to be found wandering starry eyed around the cosmetics hall of John Lewis than I am browsing the magazine racks in WH Smith, I applaud the QualitySolicitors initiative. I think it can respond to fears that high-street lawyers will disappear by giving them the muscle to face down internet 'compare-the-market' type sites and the big brands that are threatening to enter the legal market. Not that I've ever been interested in preserving the livelihoods of professionals who aren't delivering what the consumer wants. But it is essential to ensure people have a choice of how and where to get their legal services, and just because I prefer to watch the news and eat Green and Blacks, doesn't mean everyone should.