Solicitors should exploit the potential of will banks by linking up with funeral services providers
The Law Society is to set up an accreditation scheme for will-writing and probate services similar in spirit to the conveyancing quality scheme launched just over a year ago, Solicitors Journal can reveal.
“My instinct is that the Law Society should support our members by providing an accreditation and marketing scheme,” society president Des Hudson wrote in a speech he was due to deliver on Friday (29 June).
“Such a scheme can demonstrate specialist skills, quality assurance and appropriate service standards delivering value to the market based around our strong brand,” Hudson said.
Responding to the suggestion by the Legal Services Board that will-writing and estate administration should become regulated activities, Hudson warned that the proposal was based on an erroneous assumption.
The LSB made its recommendation in a report published in April, ‘Enhancing Consumer protection, reducing regulatory restrictions: will-writing, probate and estate administration services’, on the basis of research which appears to show there were as many quality issues with wills prepared by solicitors as with those made by unregulated providers.
Hudson pointed to what he said was a fundamental flaw in the report: that the LSB’s conclusions were unreliable because they were based on too small a sample that resulted in wide confidence intervals in respect of the quality of suppliers of will writing services.
Consequently, this research could not be seen as accurate indication that solicitors were just as likely, or more or less likely, to write poor quality wills as will writers, he said.
Arguing that solicitors offered greater levels of competence, Hudson said the profession offered the guarantees that came with tight regulation as well as “an in-depth understanding of what can be a complex area and a professional commitment to act solely in the interests of our clients”.
The society chief executive also said solicitors were used to competition and that the new market and regulatory circumstances would lead lawyers to be “more innovative and entrepreneurial, to set high standards for ourselves because we understand the values and obligations of what it is to be a member of a profession”.
This being considered, he said, it was “a source of regret and some puzzlement that the LSB don’t share this confidence in our profession and appear set on using will-writing as a Trojan horse to fill the market with other professional groups.”
But he called on solicitors to be more active in defence of their profession and standards, and told of the urgency to build closer relationship with clients. The consequences of what regulation of will writing meant that lawyers should be “following up with existing and new clients the broader range of services solicitors can offer and taking advantages of the new opportunities that the Legal Services Act offers to the profession”.
Now was the time, he continued, “to drive our own standards higher, demonstrate a group of specialist highly qualified practitioners committed to high quality of work, great service and an approach fit for tomorrow’s markets of well informed consumers.
“An accreditation scheme could help us drive up professional standards, create a marketing scheme would drive levels of services, speed of processing, the value seen in transparent pricing approaches and our position in the market.”
In a direct attack on Co-operative Legal Services, Hudson concluded: “That means considering link-ups with other service providers like undertakers, new ways to exploit the business potential of our will banks and how collective action around a 21st century national will register may all be necessary.”
Because of traffic setback the speech was given by legal policy director Mark Stobbs.