The days of popping down to your local solicitor and sorting out your Will or the legal work in connection with moving home may be numbered, if as is anticipated large national corporations, which are more readily associated with the provision of groceries, such as the likes of Tesco and Marks and Spencer, decide to take advantage of the change in law that will happen in the latter part of next year.
Unless there is any change between now, and then, October 2011 will see the full introduction of the Legal Services Act. This will allow non-lawyer type organisations to offer and compete with legal practices in the provision of certain legal services such as conveyancing and possibly Wills. In other words the platform will be present for well-established national brands to broaden the spectrum of their current offerings and to enter the market and to offer commoditised and, as is likely low cost, legal products and services.
The model already exists with the Co-Op which is very strong in the North of the Country. They already offer legal services to their members. Indeed if you pay for your groceries by debit or credit card the machine you use to pay actually asks at the point of payment whether you have any legal matters which they can help you with.
It was also recently reported that the CPP Group is in talks with Irwin Mitchell, a large northern based legal practice, about being able to offer legal services for the price of a pair of shoes! In addition the AA and SAGA have said they will offer legal services to not only their members but also to non-members.
The belief is that by opening the market to competition you, the consumer, will have greater choice, and due to the increased competition the option to 'purchase' these services at a lower cost. This was highlighted the following extract from the Office of Fair Trading's Report 2001 entitled "Competition in the Profession':
.Restrictions on supply in the case of professional services, just as with other goods and services, will tend to drive up costs and prices, limit access of choice and cause customers to receive poorer value for money than they would under properly competitive conditions. Such restrictions will tend also to inhibit innovation in the supply of services, again to the ultimate detriment to the public."
So what does this mean for the local solicitor and for you, the consumer?
For the solicitor offering services that can be commoditised and marketed on a low fixed cost basis, the future does not look too good. The only hope for these firms is to promote and emphasise the fact that 'cheap' is not always best.
This can be demonstrated by the fact that not all people, for example, purchase items from the 'basic' product line that Tesco and other supermarkets offer. The price of these products may appeal to certain parts of the community, but are not everybody's cup of tea. There will always remain a place for a legal practice that can offer a competitively priced service but one that is based on good and sound principles of service and reliability.
My only reservation is that even though your local solicitor may very well provide a good and reliable service, unless the solicitor has the marketing clout of Tesco or similar national corporates (which is most unlikely), it may prove difficult to compete and ensure the message is heard.
As for you, the consumer, the cost of moving home and making a will could become cheaper and more convenient to arrange, though the downside will probably mean that your work is undertaken out of the area and the access that you may currently enjoy with your local solicitor might no longer be available.
Hopefully our profession can rely on playing the 'local and service driven' card though given the increasing pressure on personal finances this could very well prove to be an uphill struggle.