Profiles of three new online services, keen to work with more Scottish firms, among those emerging to help prospective clients find the right solictor - and member firms to win more business

Quality talks

A new organisations is applying an online enquiry facility to a network of quality legal firms in order to counter the threat from new providers of legal services.

Well, I just went onto their website and here, this bloke jumps out and starts telling me what they do…, an initiative designed to help the best of the legal profession compete with other providers in the new world of alternative business structures, officially launched nationwide on 11 May, days after it signed up its first Scottish member, Inksters of Glasgow.

Essentially the service consists of a web-based enquiry service through which members of the public looking for a solicitor, enter their location and the nature of their legal problem and are then matched by legally trained staff with the nearest legal firm from an accredited list. In order to participate, a firm has to be quality approved; in England & Wales this generally means achieving recognition such as the “Lexcel” standard awarded by the Law Society there.

They also have to adhere to QualitySolicitors’ own code of conduct. And clients using the site, which is free to the enquirer, provide feedback on the service provided by the nominated firm. Any firm that underperformed would not be permitted to remain in the organisation.

The company has been preparing for launch over the past year under its chief executive Craig Holt, barrister, Michael Gradon, formerly of City of London firm Slaughter & May and head of legal and commercial affairs at P&O Group, and chief operating officer Saleem Arif, who is overseeing the expansion into Scotland. Backed by substantial private equity investment, launched amid considerable media coverage as well as a television advertising campaign. (It also made the news for its “tins of beans” protest outside the law courts in London, a reference to the Government minister who claimed that legal services could be commoditised in the same way.)

Research in England & Wales reported that 79% of high street solicitors were “very concerned” about the likely effect of the pending reforms to the profession there, contained in the Legal Services Act 2007 though not due to be brought fully into force until 2011. Michael Gradon adds that following scandals like the Beresfords’ mining compensation cases, the public are more alert than ever to look for a trusted brand. “High street firms cannot compete from a marketing and brand development perspective with the bigger companies looking to enter the legal market, but by working together they can be a force to be reckoned with.”

It may be early days, but the first user comments I found on the various local websites were very positive. Users in Leeds, Birmingham and Leicester described the service as helpful and friendly, and as finding the right solicitors for their needs.

“When I first heard about I thought that it was an excellent concept and one that fitted in well with Inksters which has, from the outset, been developed as a ‘quality’ law firm”, said Brian Inkster, founder of the firm. “When I met their representatives I knew that we could work well with them.”

Inkster sees his relationship with as one that will assist his firm, which has just marked its 10th birthday, in taking it forward to its next phase. “Although we have only been receiving referrals since the official launch of on 11 May, we have already received a good number of referrals in that time and I am very pleased by how things are working out so far.” 

t: 0845 50 50 025.

Client comfort

Designed to overcome the public’s fear of instructing lawyers, the UK’s first search and comparison legal website is looking to expand its coverage in Scotland

If is a select bunch offering you their recommendation of adviser, TakeLegalAdvice is the “helping you make an informed choice” operation.

A relative veteran having now passed its second birthday, TakeLegalAdvice also invites online enquiries from the public, but uses matching software – patent applied for – in the first instance to analyse completed enquiry forms and identify member firms with the right practice areas. Firms then have 48 hours to submit information on how they would handle the case, and the potential cost. (In addition to the software, staff are on hand to monitor enquiries and take action if one appears not to be genuine or to raise complex issues.)

The service was devised by two entrepreneurs, publisher Mark Wyatt and editor Mary Heaney, who founded and then sold on Legal Week magazine. Its mission is to offer consumers and businesses proper choice when they purchase legal services, with the matching service providing a selection of lawyers in their area of need.

The potential client remains anonymous to the responding firm during the online process. The responses include user ratings, more information on the law firm and articles written about them. Clients can consider any information provided or make other enquiries as they think fit before deciding who to instruct – if anyone, as there is no obligation, and the client incurs no cost until they directly instruct a firm.

Checking a box against a selected firm releases the client’s contact details, for the firm to contact the client direct.

Mark Wyatt says the website is designed to encourage consumers to go online and explore the validity of their case in a confidential environment with an expert. “Our research shows that people don’t shop around for legal services the way they would for their mortgage or pension. In addition, four out of five people are scared stiff of instructing a lawyer. We saw that the writing was on the wall for traditional legal services and that consumers needed a more scientific way of finding a lawyer best suited to their particular problem.”

The website also offers a service for businesses in the SME sector, with advice on matters from setting a company up to dealing with employment disputes, property leases and, in the current economy, insolvency issues.

TakeLegalAdvice is now looking to expand its membership in Scotland following a deal with Johnson Press, publishers of The Scotsman, that allows Johnson Press online publications to offer legal services via

Legal firms pay an annual membership fee which varies with the size of the firm, number of practice areas, number of partners etc. Firms do not have to pass a particular quality test to join, but a poor disciplinary or claims record would count against them and membership can be discontinued in the event of adverse feedback from clients.

t: (legal firm enquiries): 0800 634 2560.


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