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‘Solicitors cannot compete with big brands such as the Co-op’

But practitioners can deliver services in a different way

25 May 2013

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Will-writing was top of the agenda in the private client stream at SJ Live, the event organised by Private Client Adviser's sister title Solicitors Journal.

Opening the day, John Bunker, head of private client knowledge management at Thomas Eggar, who presented two sessions, said the lord chancellor's recent decision not to make will writing a reserved activity was "disappointing". But, he said, the Law Society's quality scheme plan had real potential.

"Some people, I appreciate, see this as a cost and bureaucratic problem, but I would hope that people could see it as an opportunity to differentiate solicitors who really know what they're doing with wills and estates work - and do a lot of it - from those who just dabble," he said.

"It shouldn't be the case that every solicitor thinks they can dabble in this area. If we're going to compete with everyone out there and show we've got this quality, what are the things that we need to do?

"There are two big brands with which we cannot compete: Co-op and Saga. So let's make sure we're offering quality. Streamline the process as much as possible to save costs so we can give time for the things that really matter. But not just streamline it all so it becomes just the cheapest service, because we can't compete with Co-op. I think solicitors can deliver something in a different way."

Straw poll

Bunker took a straw poll of the room putting forward two options. "You can say that it's a good opportunity to differentiate those who know what they're doing from those who just dabble, or you can say it's unnecessary regulation," he said. With about three times as many in favour of the latter, he suggested this was unsurprising, reflecting the audience demographic of mostly small practitioners.

Other client-handling traps were discussed including undue influence and concerns about online wills.

"I would say tread very, very carefully," Bunker continued, "because how do you know if you're not seeing somebody face to face that they haven't got one of their children guiding their hand? How do you know that they've got the capacity to understand what they're doing?"

Bunker also discussed the importance of spending time listening to clients and understanding them. "The danger with cutting the cost and streamlining doing things cheaply is you don't give enough time and then you miss the point that's really concerning the client."

Undue influence was underscored in a session on elderly client, hosted by Sheree Green of Anthony Collins Solicitors. The day also included a presentation on common drafting pitfalls by Heather Murphy of XXIV Old Buildings.

Nearly 60 private client solicitors attended the first SJ Live, which took place at the Emirates stadium in  May. The event returns to London in October along with an equivalent in Manchester. Both conferences offer delegates six hours' CPD for only £99.

For more details, call Ciaran McManus on 020 7549 8673 or visit the event website.

Categorised in:

Legal services Vulnerable Clients Wills, Trusts & Probate