For consumers the advent of “Tesco Law” with the promise of low or fixed fee legal services may be a welcome relief. This is especially so in an environment where consumers seek value for money, but how do you measure value? Solicitors and Barristers have for many years charged their time at a set hourly rate.
Recently the Master of the Rolls predicted that Tesco Law would remove from the market place the “billable hour” and replace it with fixed fees. Any lawyer who has worked with fixed fees will know that this does not automatically mean low fees. What consumers are acquiring is a great deal of expertise backed with years of education and continuous training in order to provide the commodity that they seek.
Tesco are clearly experts in the field of providing mass products at low prices but anybody who thinks that a legal service is akin to a can of beans is in for a shock.
The only way that low or discounted fixed fees are going to come about is by the services to which they relate being provided by lesser qualified individuals. The Legal Services Act 2007 will do little I suspect in providing the safeguards around ‘non-law firms’ to ensure quality of products, which standards lawyers have had to aspire to under the Code of Conduct 2007 and its predecessor.
The only saving grace for traditional law firms with the dawn of ‘Tesco Law’ is the potential to ultimately market for mass Professional Negligence claims against the providers of volume, remotely accessed legal services at low prices. Such suppliers, in trying to produce these services cheaply, may do so as a consequence without sufficient regard for quality. That quality having been achieved traditionally by reason of the work being done at reasonable hourly rates, reflecting the many years expertise and qualification which apply to such areas of work.
Ask any law firm who have had to advise families whose deceased relatives have used certain ‘Will writing companies’ only to discover that the Wills are negligently drafted or the companies no longer exist and didn’t carry Professional indemnity insurance.
There is a well known and perhaps suitable adage to be applied in this context that you only get what you pay for; let’s hope that consumers are more discerning about the acquisition of legal services than they are cans of beans.
Keith Park Solicitors