Getting rid of bad apples relies on transparency

By Matthew Briggs In About TLS

One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole barrel.

Like many other professions (estate agents, bankers, politicians and traffic wardens spring to mind), the legal profession takes its fair share of criticism from the public. These sentiments are only made worse when a story of malpractice and immoral behaviour from within the industry comes to light.

It can be unpleasant to see how the misconduct of a tiny minority does such a disservice to the rest of a profession – particularly when a case appears to confirm the suspicions of the general public.

The recent story from Pembrokeshire of a solicitor struck off for ‘abhorrent’ overcharging is just such a case. Grossly inflated fees, poor record-keeping and unethical conduct all amount to nightmare headlines that only serve to undermine the trusting relationships that most legal service providers work hard to build with clients.

While this type of behaviour is certainly not the norm amongst law firms, and it would be easy for the profession to distance itself from such an isolated case, the matter does, however, raise another issue.

How is it possible that a legal matter costing £2,000 could be charged at an eye-watering £123,600?

The answer lies, I think, in a lack of understanding. The law is a complex and opaque field in many ways. Those who haven’t studied it carefully can often become befuddled by the terminology, the processes and, as a result, the fees entailed in handling a case.

The legal profession is certainly not alone in this. The technology sector certainly has its own mystique. Simply mention coding, web development, site builds or SEO and watch how those without expertise glaze over.

The problem with such a lack of understanding is that clients are never quite able to grasp what represents value for money. Paying a bricklayer or plumber to work on your home results in something tangible. A wall stands where previously there was just a fence; or a bathroom has a functioning shower where once there was only a bath.

The time required, the materials involved and the expertise and knowledge are all laid bare in traditional trades. But ask what is reasonable for an intellectual property case or the building of a website and the person on the street may not have the faintest idea.

So, where does that leave the legal profession? After all, a complex legal issue is a complex legal issue: there is no getting around that fact. And it is because of the skills and knowledge required that individuals and businesses choose to consult a legal service provider in the first place.

At The Law Superstore we have been banging the drum for ‘transparency’ for some time now.  Our platform directly tackles the concerns that have been outlined by both the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) in relation to the accessibility of legal services and the communication between client and legal service provider.

Like the insurance industry before it, the legal profession must embrace a client-centric approach and make pricing structures as straightforward and clear as possible. As with insurance firms, legal service providers are free to price according to their expertise and the resources required to service a client. But those fees must be justifiable and framed within a context that a client can understand.

In another post I discussed the latest LSB findings in relation to firms and the value of upfront pricing. I talked about The Law Superstore’s focus on developing an aggregation platform that empowers firms to promote themselves according to their unique selling points.

We believe that we have found a balance that offers our Partner firms great flexibility but also offers clients the ability to grasp how their money is being invested. Let’s take a quick example:

Firm A charges 5% more than firm B for exactly the same service. But firm A is also open on a Saturday. Through TLS, clients have the power to choose between cost and convenience. If weekend opening hours allow a particular client to make appointments without taking annual leave or losing paid work, then they may see greater value for money in choosing firm A.

If the case of the recently struck-off solicitor teaches us anything, it is that the profession has a responsibility to safeguard against similar cases in the future through a commitment to transparency.

Call me biased, but I would suggest that comparison websites have an important part to play in turning such a pledge into reality.

If you are legal service provider and would like to explore business development tools that both bring in new cases and support greater transparency, why not visit www.thelawsuperstore.co.uk/partners  today and find out more about why you should join the only real-time comparison site for free today.

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