Alternative business structures accelerating end for legal dinosaurs

Alternative business structures accelerating end for legal dinosaurs

It may be a long goodbye, but as sure as night follows day news that several law firms under the QualitySolicitors mantle have opted to become alternative business structures, the end is nigh for the legal dinosaurs of the high street.

It may be sad from a nostalgic point of view, as they disappear into history along with all those butchers and independent shoe shops, which those of us brought up a generation or more ago remember well.

However, for the great and the good of the public it is nothing to feel too upset about.

By the dinosaurs, I don’t mean traditional law firms who are looking to adapt themselves to a new legal landscape changing at a rate of knots never known in the history of UK law, but those firms stuck in a time warp. You know them. “We do things a certain way- the correct way at Pinkerton, Pinkerton and Partners.”

Well they don’t. As recently as a couple of years ago I was caught up in a transaction with a Pinkerton, Pinkerton and Partners firm.

My father had passed away and our family were dealing with the sale of his house. The firm, who shall remain nameless, were chosen by my brother because they were local to him and had dealt with his house purchase many years ago.

The experience was a mixture of the bizarre, comical and frustrating. It was if I’d been cast as an extra in the popular BBC drama Ashes to Ashes. There was flock wallpaper as you entered. The receptionist, as delightful as she was seemed quite dotty, and had been there even longer than the wallpaper. In short I empathised greatly with Detective Inspector Alex Drake as I too felt trapped in 1981.

Anyhow, our Mr Pinkerton character, didn’t believe in using email for anything. When he called us it was his secretary who first spoke saying that Mr Pinkerton wished to talk to us. He clearly believed us minions should have felt so honoured.

For the most part the service apart from the antiquated quirks had been ok, up until the exchange of contracts and completion as he then decided to hold onto the funds as long as he could for the interest – leading to a rather nasty parting of the waves. So much for our future custom- which would have come quickly as my sibling has bought a new house since.

There are still many practices like this. Their days are certainly numbered and good riddance to them, as the effects of the Legal Services Act blows like an icy wind.

In the summer of 2012 alone, 250 legal firms went by the wayside. There have been more since.

I hope these  stories emanating from the legal world about the changing landscape is having its effects on those worthy practices offering a better service than I encountered , but still stuck in their ways through conservative tradition rather than belligerence.

Whilst I can see the attraction to changing to some converting to alternative business structures, bringing in non-legal partners and expertise as part of the firm, I believe that outsourcing may be a less radical way forward for many.

My own findings with legal firms and other correspondence I’ve read is that many lack an awful lot of in-house knowledge to help them. They tend to outsource only for very minor tasks such as admin.

However, what many SME practices are failing to capitalise on is their USP of being trusted legal specialists, who generations before have visited. Also being able to meet face to face with legal specialists rather than picking up the phone in some call centre situation appeals to many.

Legal matters are transactions which massively impact on the public. We all know botched wills, conveyancing and divorces could cost six figured sums to the average man. This is a message SME firms need to run with. Can you trust other providers like  banks? We know what the public think of bankers, or a supermarket to give you the reassurance that’s needed at a time of big decisions.

There is plenty of outsourcing help out there. Marketing and sales is what’s needed and, unlike my experience of two years ago, I know there are plenty of good firms out there struggling. If they serve a customer well once, there is a good chance they will stay with them for life, but some don’t do enough to hook them in.

I hope this week’s news regarding the QualitySolicitor firms changing their structures will shift the mind sets for some. The Legal Services Act is really beginning now to take hold, but for many trustworthy traditional firms there is still time. However, it’s not on their side.