The CMA study should be about progression – not a case of right or wrong

By Matthew Briggs In Money Matters

It won’t be surprising to hear that the inspiration for this week’s article is Competition and Markets Authority’s investigation into legal services.

In the short time since this announcement was made – and subsequently attracted a significant amount of attention in the press – there has been plenty of debate on the issue. We’ve read a lot about the perceived shortcomings of the industry and plenty of counter-arguments citing a ‘witch hunt’ aimed at a profession undeserving of its notoriety.

Based on the headlines we have seen, it is hardly surprising that there's been some resentment towards the CMA. But this is largely because many have assumed a damning conclusion before the research has even been undertaken.

The most vocal opponents of this investigation are quick to point out that 2015 had been a strong year for the sector – both financially and in terms of customer satisfaction. It is hard to argue with this case for the defence. And the legal profession unquestionably has much to be proud of.

But when has success ever been an excuse to rest on one’s laurels? For progressive, forward-thinking legal service providers, we believe the three key aims of the CMA research should hold no fear.

In case you’ve missed them, the CMA will look to find out: 

• Whether customers can drive effective competition by making informed purchasing decisions.
• Whether customers are adequately protected from potential harm or can obtain satisfactory redress.
• How regulatory framework impacts on competition for the supply of legal services

It has also been said that the focus of the research will be on individuals and small businesses – an area we know from the Legal Services Board’s own research that currently represents an “Access Gap” running into several billion pounds a year.

To us, this certainly sounds like an opportunity more than a threat to firms. Can the profession really afford to dismiss the idea that there are changes to be made and fine tuning to be done?

To quote Rachel Merelie, Senior Director at the CMA:

Whether it’s buying a property, resolving disputes or getting expert advice on financial and employment matters, it’s vitally important that consumers and small businesses can access the legal advice and representation they need”.

Surely this is not contentious?

In response to the announcement, John Hyde of the Law Society Gazette stated that the CMA are “barking up the wrong tree”. While he is absolutely right to suggest that legal service providers offer no less choice than many other industries – energy, communications, insurance, etc – the fact is that for laymen it is currently much harder to compare and contrast.

While Hyde argues that this point of difference is all the more reason to fight against commoditizing legal services, we beg to differ. It is all the more reason to work at making selection easier for the potential buyer.

Why? Because like it or not the legal profession is in the business of selling a service. And if they don’t do it successfully, people will take their money elsewhere.

The days where a profession could dictate how to present their wares has gone. Instead, we now live in a world where digital disruption has taken hold and where too many other industries have proven the benefits of evolving to become intensely customer-focused. Pandora’s Box has been opened and it is impossible to turn our back on a digital space where insurance, energy, holidays and takeaways offer genuine convenience, immediacy and transparency.

It is for this reason that we at The Law Superstore believe the challenge is now to put legal services on a platter for customers – enabling them to make buying decisions in the way that best suits them. As Hyde admits himself: “Perhaps clients could be helped further.” 

We also hasten to add that genuine online comparison can actually benefit service providers every bit as much as customers. Our own platform, for instance, bypasses the traditional triage process that historically costs both provider and customer time, money and resources. 

My hope is that the CMA’s research is not, and not perceived to be, a war on the legal profession. Instead, it must be a frank appraisal of a successful industry that could and should look to improve and do more for customers – not just in offering solid customer service, but in attracting new leads in the first place. 

Trialling The Law Superstore is free for the first 250 legal service providers to sign up as partners. To learn more, visit www.thelawsuperstore.co.uk/partners or email our team at [email protected].

 
*This article was originally posted on LinkedIn

 

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