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‘Learn from WIQS even if you reject it’

Pros and cons of will-writing quality scheme discussed at conference

18 October 2013

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With the Law Society's controversial wills and inheritance quality scheme (WIQS) opening for membership on Monday, it was top of the agenda at the private client stream at SJ Live, the twice-yearly conference organised by Solicitors Journal, this week.

John Bunker, head of private client knowledge management at Thomas Eggar, discussed his concerns and the reasons some practitioners have deemed it over the top.

"I think the biggest problem with [the protocol] and my scepticism is about the amount required under the standard will retainer," said Bunker. "Therefore you've really got to be clear that you're only giving the minimal advice required and be ready to estimate for extra work so you can still do wills at a competitive level.

"The danger is you get sucked into giving too much advice and not getting paid for it."

And the cost implications could be "horrendous".

However, whether firms choose to sign up or not, Bunker said there were key practice points to learn from the scheme.

"It is very easy to look through this and say, 'I do it anyway.' The question is: do you do it in every single case and confirm all the points that need to be in place? You've got to have a system and checklists," he said.

Key practice points

  • There’s scope for some lawyers to take instructions from or advise a client and then pass to will drafters to prepare.
  • Learn lessons from the LSB consumer panel and evaluate skills and up-to-date knowledge as well as experience. Think about senior partners who may be out of touch.
  • Keep to one or two sets of precedents that can know well, if possible using precedents with automated will commentary, for risk management and cost effectiveness.
  • If there’s no automated commentary on your precedents, consider standard client guides to explain a will’s effects clearly, for example forms of trust for children and grandchildren.
  • Allow time to listen to what clients are saying, their concerns and to ask enough questions.
  • Always get a fresh pair of eyes to check all draft wills however experienced the drafter to minimise the error risk.
  • Flag up issues where you recommend further advice, for example on IHT or business structures.
  • If client will not pay for that advice, confirm it in writing to cover your back.

Bunker advised that firms see WIQS as the matters that need addressing.

"It's easy to knock the Law Society - and a lot of people are knocking them - but the Ministry of Justice said professions needed to smarten up their act. And that is what the Law Society is trying to do with this."

Bunker referred to the legal services consumer panel's survey about the quality of will writing, which found that too many wills written by solicitors did not reflect the client's intentions and contained basic errors.

"The fundamental thing is we've got to allow time. Have your systems, know what precedents you're using, but do have time to be able to ask enough questions and listen enough," he said.

"Lawyers, generally, are good at speaking; we're not always so good at listening to what clients are really saying."

Ultimately, firms need to do something different to compete in today's market.

"As solicitors, we ought to be offering something more than other people doing estate administration. If we can't get this sort of detail right, that's a major, major area for us," he said. "If there's tax that can be saved, we can show real added value by talking about ways of doing that."

And the value of Saga's brand should not be underestimated, he said, citing his own parents' experience of its cross-selling success.

"We may want to dismiss the Co-op and lots of other competitors, but someone like Saga is talking about people being bamboozled by jargon, they want to target confused clients.

"We have to respond to that challenge and really think about how we are addressing our practice for today's needs, for today's clients."

The scheme opens for membership on 21 October and a national advertising campaign is scheduled to launch in January when the implication will be that non-members are not offering a quality service.

"It's a kitemark," said Bunker. "If you're not doing the kitemark, what's your way of doing things positively?"

What do you think about WIQS? Email

Categorised in:

Legal services Tax & Wealth structuring Wills, Trusts & Probate