The new QualitySolicitors ad: the John Lewis-ification of legal services?

People who know me know that I am not afraid to cry. Sometimes it doesn’t take much: watching my daughter skipping in the garden, burning the dinner, stubbing my toe, kittens playing (ok, that’s probably an exaggeration). But on the whole I don’t get emotional about adverts, unless they are for John Lewis, which, I believe, are designed to induce sobs from even the hardest of hearts.

So it’s quite an achievement for Quality Solicitors to leave me all misty eyed after viewing their latest offering.  The new 90-second advert manages to transform the usual law firm image of middle-aged men speaking in a language the rest of us don’t understand and charging us a lot of money for something we’ve been told we need into a compassionate companion for life.

It isn’t, in fact, the first time I have shed a tear over lawyers, but it is the first time that it hasn’t been due to frustration.  I am sure it was, as with the John Lewis adverts, totally intentional, even if Craig Holt doesn’t say as much in the behind-the-scenes video on YouTube.  As you would expect, the naysayers have been out in force.

Let me first say that even though this is the their blog, I am no QS patsy.  It might be going a bit far for me to write something negative about them on here, but I could quite easily just avoid it or write it somewhere else if I felt like it.  But in this case I don't have to because I think the advert is brilliant.

This is in no small part thanks to the beautiful rendition of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Hard road to travel’ by Rachel K Collier and the slick production by Saatchi & Saatchi that quite clearly and deliberately follows in John Lewis’ footsteps.  It’s more than this though.  The advert successfully makes an emotional connection with the viewer, and that is what building a brand is all about.

Trying to sell lawyers and their services is not easy, just ask the Law Society.  Most of their efforts in the past have ranged from last year’s unmemorable ‘Choose quality advice’ to the utterly toe-curling ‘My Solicitor, My Hero’.

To be fair, they’ve never had the money for an ad campaign that QS now has at its disposal, but I hope they’ve sent Craig Holt a thank-you card because he’s done more for the solicitor brand as a whole in one commercial than they’ve managed in all their hackneyed attempts.

I would be surprised if people suddenly start saying they love solicitors and flock through the doors of QS firms up and down the land.  Building a brand, even with a £15 million marketing campaign, takes time,  although at the rate QS has been developing, who knows?

There are still plenty of people who are both sceptical and uncomfortable at the whole QS proposal, thinking it is downgrading the profession and that consumers don’t want legal services from a high-street brand.  They argue passionately that people will continue to seek out and use the trusted family solicitor as a guarantor of quality.

The John Lewis-ification of QS should, but probably won’t, change their minds.  These critics don’t understand that they are no longer in a position to dictate what the consumer wants; they fail to grasp that it is the market that will decide which firms survive and which don’t.  If QS delivers what customers want, however distasteful that may be to its competitors, it will be one of the winners.

The cleverness of the QS commercial is in the way it positions the solicitor as not just someone you go to for a ‘distress purchase’ but someone who is with you throughout whatever life brings.  This is quite different from the traditional paternal family solicitor who fills out forms and produces documents when you suddenly find you need them.  This is someone who understands your life and helps guide you through it.

This is the real parallel with John Lewis and it goes beyond just being a nice advert.  John Lewis is no longer just a store selling products, it’s a lifestyle choice.  On the whole, people don’t think anything bad could happen in John Lewis, they trust it, they rely on it and, as a consequence, they spend their money there.

Probably more by coincidence than design, the QS campaign launched in the same week the first alternative business structures were announced.  I think the advert hints at the real revolution in legal services more than the new non-lawyer owners of law firms.  The true transformation will take longer and be more profound, because it will transform legal services from being infrequent, confusing purchases to something consumers plan for and actively choose.

As I imagine it, the ‘lifestyle legal service’ could and should be a boon to the high-street law firm by tapping into Richard Susskind’s ‘latent demand of legal services’ and actually expanding the market.  Such an approach, providing packages of legal services at certain points in life – getting married, moving house, having children, retiring etc – surely makes more sense for the consumer.  And it surely makes more business sense than waiting for a stressed and distressed client to walk through your door.

He doesn’t quite say as much but I bet this is what Craig Holt is driving at when he says in the making-of film that the advert was about ‘creating an understanding that legal services aren’t really about forms and document and black-letter law, but about life and emotions and people’s families, businesses’.

It is certainly what the Legal Services Act was really about.  I didn’t spend all those years campaigning for change in the legal services market just so a few non-lawyer partners could join the board, or even so we could get nice slick adverts courtesy of private equity investment.

I did it so consumers could get a choice of legal services designed and delivered to meet their needs rather than those of the lawyers.  And if that means law firms look more and more like John Lewis, that’s fine by me.

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