Scrap in-store legal reps – bring on the embarrassing legal problem roadshow

embarrassing lawyers - legal roadshowFrom The Law Society Gazette 07/04/11:

Today’s news that QualitySolicitors is to put a member of staff in WHSmithstores throughout the country has provoked a strong reaction from the profession; as any regular visitor the Gazette site would expect.

So how significant is this move to place QS staff in WHSmith stores?

Frankly, QS boss Craig Holt hits the nail on the head when he points out that the deal will ‘fast forward QS to “household name” status years ahead of target’. You bet it will.

True, but that’s not to say it will be a ‘good’ or ‘positive’ household name. Clearly they’re banking on the maxim that all publicity is good publicity will hold true. I’m not convinced it always does for the legal profession.  Heck, just look at Andrew Crossley & ACS:Law.

One of the biggest problems solicitors face is that many people who might want to use their services are actually a bit scared of them.

A consumer research project conducted by the SRA recently found that consumers are ‘in awe’ of the profession.

That might sound complimentary, but in practice it means they are too intimidated to walk into a solicitors’ office and finally get that will written up.

In one canny move, QS has eliminated that problem. Instead of trying to entice reluctant clients through a law firm’s doors, now the brand comes to them instead – in among the two-for-one chocolate deals and paperback books, a place where a smiling employee in a black and pink polo shirt presents customers with just the perfect opportunity to do something about that nagging legal problem.

And that’s the very problem. WHSmith tried placing reps from utility providers in stores a while ago who generally milled around annoying customers who had just popped in for a porn mag copy of the Daily Telegraph. I hate sales people and I know I’m not the only one; most people seem to welcome them as they would a bad case of haemorrhoids.

It doesn’t matter whether that person is a lawyer or not – and in fact will probably work better if they’re not.

It is more important for them to be approachable than knowledgeable (I know commentators won’t like this). All they need to do is tap that appointment into the iPad, and let the qualified lawyers take it from there.

I’m not sure two wrongs make a right. If it takes someone being hassled by a salesperson to realise they need access to justice, their need can’t have been very great in the first place.

But it is hard to see how this deal can be anything other than a very smart move for QS firms; all the better, because now QS has really stolen a march on the non-legal brands that will be looking to exploit their own high street outlets and branches come October.

Boooo, I say.

I’m all for improving transparency and accessibility, but this is terrible.  I think the ‘I need somebody’ billboard campaign for solicitors ran by the Law Society is a good idea – for what that’s worth.   As a campaign it was clear, dignified and relevant.  But placing salespeople in shops to grab customers by the elbow while they’re standing in line to buy a completely unrelated product most certainly is not. 

If it’s suddenly so important to take legal services and the profession to the client, perhaps roadshows for embarrassing legal problems a la the Embarrassing Bodies doctors on Channel 4 would be a better idea. At least that wouldn’t involve getting your naughty bits out on national television, as you lay back, your legs in stirrups, whilst the cameraman pans up towards your nether regions. 

Well, I guess that could be optional.  Be right back

Heck, for the overseas episode, you might even persuade a solicitor to take off his Oxfords and socks, roll up his trousers, and walk across the beach looking for clients with a dire legal problem.

Think it’d be a goer? 

Comments

  1. What a short-sighted blog.

    What about (as opposed to the people who don't need a lawyer) those that do and would feel much more comfortable making that initial contact in the town centre WHSmith than in an intimidating law firm office? How can that not be good for consumers? Because utility brands placed in WHSmith acted like sales people, doesn't mean that is how these Quality Solicitors staff would be.

    And as a solicitor, I can confirm the Law Society marketing does absolutely nothing for the accessibility of the profession. Nor, I suppose, is Quality Solicitors' aiming to increase the general positive perception of the profession but, instead, to generate work for its firms and I am certain this will do so for them.

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  2. Stephen - thanks for the comment.

    I'm still sceptical about placing reps in stores, but I agree than having some kind of contact point in town centres (which isn't marked by an intimidating door and a shiny brass plate on the wall) is a good thing.

    But I'm always happy to be proven wrong (it happens a lot!!) so maybe this campaign for Quality Solicitors will prove my doubts were ill-placed given time! :-)

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