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Kerry Underwood

Senior partner , Underwoods Solicitors

Consumerism in legal services is a morally bankrupt concept

Consumerism in legal services is a morally bankrupt concept


Panels promoting consumerism in legal services are living in a parallel universe, says Kerry Underwood

They are at it again. Summer madness.

First, the Competition and Markets Authority (8 July), then the Legal Services Board (19 August), and now the
Legal Services Consumer
Panel (19 August). All want more regulation. Why
couldn't they just watch the Olympics like the rest of us?

Funny how regulatory bodies, which get paid out of taxes, always want more regulation but do not actually prevent the collapse of the banking system, Enron, Arthur Andersen, BHS, etc. Their mission statement might as well be: 'We can't actually regulate or control the banks, insurance companies,
or multi-national accountancy and law firms, so to justify our existence we will pick on small and medium-sized firms.'

The Legal Services Consumer Panel - the worst of a particularly bad lot - suggests 'a simple system that starts from a consumer journey perspective.' Ah yes. A custody dispute involving two children: 'one and two halves to the divorce court please'. You just get on the bus, read the paper, have a sandwich, and get off at the other end.

There is a tiny problem with this approach. In litigation there is always someone else trying to stop your journey, derail your train, sink your boat or crash your bus. It is like comparing
a day trip to France with the D-Day landings. 'I know I
robbed the bank and shot someone but from my consumer journey perspective
I don't want the journey to end in Wormwood Scrubs.'

It is Bridget 'Baked Beans' Prentice all over again. The reason why buying baked beans is not the same as purchasing legal services is that in a supermarket there is not normally someone trying to throw all of your purchases out of the basket, as there is in litigation.

Apparently there is 'a chronically weak demand side' as 'consumers are not empowered to shop around'. If the panel says so, it must be true.

As you will all know from
your own experience, no one ever calls in or telephones us
and asks for a free interview, or non-existent legal aid, or cheap conveyancing quotes, or no win, no fee arrangements. The client - sorry conshoomer - rings up. We make up the price. We tell
the client. They agree and insist on paying the whole bill there and then. Of course that's not how things are, but that is the way it is in the parallel universe occupied by members of the Legal Services Consumer Panel.

We also need a regime 'focused on the activity rather than the person doing the work'. Try transferring that over to the stage or sport. It is gibberish.
On that basis 90,000 people
will watch a football match
in the park, the same as
the number who will go to Wembley. Fred from the Dog and Duck will get the same TV audience as an Olympic gold medal winner. Ten million people will go to the local am-dram production, just the same number as would watch
a major TV drama with major stars. And so it goes on.

These useless, publicly funded parasitic bodies should all be scrapped overnight. Consumerism is all about the individual at the expense of society. It is a morally bankrupt concept. Even if they cost nothing, these bodies are deeply harmful. And you could get a lot of legal aid with the savings.

Kerry Underwood is senior partner at Underwoods Solicitors and a course specialist in qualified one-way costs shifting @kerry_underwood

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