Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rebranding of Scots legal firms fails to atttract clients or trust

Peter Cherbi’s “A Diary of Injustice in Scotland” reports on the poor state of Scotland’s legal profession .. you really would think there is something to worry about !

"Rebranding fails to raise client trust in lawyers as poor standards & negligence dominate Scots legal sector"

Imagine you needed a heart operation and you were just about to 'go under the knife' when you found out the surgeon had killed every single former patient in the same operation you were to undergo. Would you still proceed or would you ask for another surgeon ?

Chances are you would ask for another surgeon if you were told such a thing .. and thankfully in the medical world, there are plenty capable & qualified people who are not all a bunch of killers as some may put it so you might be in with a chance of finding the surgeon to your liking.

However, what happens if you come to sell your house and the lawyer you are using makes a complete mess of the deal to the point you only get half the value or less of your property .. or even worse, you find out the lawyer himself or one of his business partners bought your house on the cheap through a fiddled deal ? What would you do if that happened ? Would you try to find another lawyer to sort out the lawyer who ruined you ... or even try to take legal action against your former lawyer for fiddling your legal & financial affairs ?

Chances are you wont get another lawyer to do any of that .. because in the legal world, hardly any lawyer likes to 'sort out' another lawyer .. it just isn't on chaps, not only because lawyers don't usually sue other lawyers, but also because the Law Society of Scotland basically forbids such cases going to court in most instances or it might just have to start paying out huge sums of money from the profession’s Master Insurance Policy for professional negligence which you can read more about here : How to sue a lawyer in Scotland and get nowhere

So the lesson is .. any other profession, or industry (minus perhaps accountants) where a professional mucks up the task you set them .. you can normally find another to put it right .. not with a lawyer though .. no .. not a chance.

Try and complain against a lawyer after they have done you wrong, fleeced your finds, ruined your life .. you will find the legal profession itself will turn on you with a vengeance and ensure it is you who are the ruined one ... and oh my, there are just so many examples of that, it would take weeks to go through them all.

Suffice to say, lawyers don't sue other lawyers, and lawyers wont see their colleagues put out of their jobs, simply because they are crooks .. and with no way to find out how crooked your lawyer might be .. you are taking as big a chance going to a lawyer these days as you are attempting to walk blindfold across water.

So, which of Scotland’s legal firms have client complaints ?

Well the answer to that is of course, all of them. All legal firms and most or all lawyers have complaints made against them, in varying severity of course.

So, which legal firms or lawyers will tell you how bad they have been to clients ?

Obviously the answer to that one is : None of them ! Not one ! Ever !

You can’t find out any of the above information because of course, Freedom of Information isn’t allowed when it comes to lawyers, as the legal profession currently have an immunity from FOI as I reported in my earlier article of this week : Consumer protection weakened by lawyers FOI exemption while new Legal Complaints Commission must comply to information laws

With the eventual opening of Scotland's legal services market, after Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's go slow approach lifts, there would of course be no need for the public to be forced to use any of Scotland's current framework of legal firms, because new entrants to the legal services sector could take a more honest approach, disclosing their full & up-to-date client service histories to all consumers .. something you will never find a Scots legal firm doing .. and I will tell you why.

Earlier this week, in a conversation with a senior lawyer, the extent of negligence claims against solicitors in Scotland was brought home to me where I was shown details of cases showing in twenty 'big name' legal firms from one city alone, at least one of the partners had no less than five negligence claims made against them.

Unsurprisingly most of those negligence cases remain unresolved, some stuck in court after eight years, due to 'intervention' from the Law Society of Scotland which of course, the outgoing Law Society Chief Executive claimed did not occur.

Here’s a couple of links to show what the Law Society do when it comes to stopping negligence cases going to court :

The Corrupt Link Revealed - How the Law Society of Scotland manages client complaints & settlements.

Law Society intervention in claims 'commonplace' as ex Chief admits Master Policy protects solicitors against clients

Not to be outdone by the written word, you can also see Douglas Mill claiming the Law Society of Scotland never intervened in complaints or claims against lawyers in video form here

Douglas Mill – It wisnae me who fiddled cases against my fellow lawyers even though my memos say so !

Yes .. before you say it, I do use that clip quite a lot .. but it is rather unique footage .. a Law Society Chief Executive lying to a Justice Committee over the content of his own memos and how he intervened in cases to stop people obtaining a measure of justice … even my own !

Now to get back to what I was saying, twenty lawyers from twenty legal firms with 100 negligence claims against them is quite a lot .. despite what the legal profession may have you believe. If you think of how many lawyers and legal firms there are in Scotland and how that statistic may repeat itself .. it must mean the Scots legal profession has a problem, to say the least.

The detail and severity of cases which were disclosed in that conversation showed to me we are talking serious figures here on serious complaints ranging from poor or fraudulent management of litigation for both private & corporate clients, to theft from deceased's estates to just about anything you could imagine ...

How indeed could anyone trust a 'big name' or perhaps 'brand name' legal firm again after that ? ... because really you don't know what you are getting when you go to them, despite the 'aura' of their 'name' and reputed proficiency .. which in reality does not exist.

Here's an example of how one solicitor can build up a history of negligence claims ... in this case we are talking about over twenty negligence claims against one solicitor but it seems that five or ten negligence claims against just about any lawyer you could name are not unusual these days in Scotland - thanks to the way the Law Society of Scotland has poorly regulated the legal profession over the past few decades.

A solicitor with 21 negligence claims against him – normal enough in today’s Scots legal services sector : Law Society of Scotland covers up history of crooked lawyer as new President indicates little change on pro lawyer anti client policies

There are it seems, many lawyers almost equalling the above reported case walking around with the full support of the Law Society of Scotland, still offering their poor legal services to unsuspecting members of the public who don’t know one thing about the person they are about to commit the most important legal aspects of their life to.

Would you use a lawyer who told you they had 21 negligence claims made against them for poor legal work ? Probably not !

What can you do to avoid these kinds of lawyers ?

Well at the moment, not much .. because the Law Society certainly wont be disclosing any regulatory records to enquiring members of the public .. should they do, I doubt anyone in the country would use a Scots lawyer after that.

Here’s an article I wrote a couple of years ago on disclosure of a lawyer’s regulatory history, which would benefit consumers and add to that level of consumer protection we all must surely expect from our legal representatives : Disclosing the regulatory history of lawyers in Scotland to help give choice to the consumer

You can, as clients, start insisting on seeing a lawyers regulatory record before you do business with them .. and really that isn't such a bad thing to ask or expect to receive, given the tasks you give a lawyer probably include or affect the most important details of your life.

Put it this way .. plenty of you look at the ingredients on your packaged food before you buy it ... so why not look at the ingredients of your lawyer before you hand over the keys to your life .... and just because you might be buying into a 'brand name' legal firm, doesn't always mean you are getting good quality or the promise of a successful outcome.

Here follows an article from this weeks Scotsman on 'brand awareness' in the Scots legal sector .. which perhaps you might want to question much harder before you take the plunge into legal bills and the inevitable poor legal service which seems to dog just about all litigation in Scotland these days.

Of course, it could just be this rebranding exercise is all about firms positioning themselves to be sold off to banks & financial companies who may enter the Scots legal services sector once the market is opened up to competition … but such would-be buyers of what appear to be ‘famous legal names’ should beware of buying into what might just be a case of ‘bad rubbish’, better maybe to start their own legal services firms with more customer friendly clean slates

Brand awareness begins to make inroads in a very traditional sector

Change in markets is leading firms into new territory and altering the way they communicate, says Jennifer Veitch

IT IS bright pink, it is bold, and it is unashamedly trying to generate new business from female clients. Pagan Osborne's recent Beauty Secrets marketing campaign – which offers to "smooth out frown lines" and "reduce dark circles" by easing the stress of life's big decisions – is something of a departure for a law firm with 250 years of tradition.

But, according to Tania Hemming, Pagan Osborne's marketing and business development director, the campaign is just a taste of how law firms might look to promote themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

As the UK economy slows and the regulations governing legal services look set to be relaxed, Hemming says that firms will have to look at their branding.

"Our market is changing and because of alternative business structures, we are going to have to change the way we communicate," she says. "People buy very differently these days, and I think the profession has, sometimes, a quite stuffy image.

"Our campaign was such a shock when it came out – it's bright pink, it's a very strong female image, and it's not what you would expect. But you have to talk to clients in the way they want to be talked to."

Hemming had the idea for the recent marketing campaign – which invites women to meet the firm over coffee at Edinburgh style bar Tigerlily – after recent reports suggested women were often the financial decision makers in the household.

She says Beauty Secrets is already bringing in new business and has inspired plans for future campaigns.

According to Nathan Fulwood, the business development manager of web design agency Realise, whose clients include Pagan Osborne, Drummond Miller, Dickson Minto and the Law Society, more firms in the sector are recognising the need to create a stronger brand, particularly online.

"We're seeing that there is a willingness from solicitors to think differently about their presence on the web," he says. "For instance, there is an openness to borrowing experiences from other sectors, particularly in terms of embracing concepts of customer journey and life scenarios to engage clients on a more emotive level, not just on a 'need' basis."

He continues: "The use of the web has changed from purely brand promotion. Some (firms] have successfully used websites to disseminate information and knowledge and so establish a leadership position which drives people to them.

"Others increasingly recognise that the website is more about the person visiting the website and less about the firm itself.

"The web is now the place where the customer searches for services, including legal services. Therefore any solicitor has to have a distinctive presence online if it is going to have a competitive edge."

Donald Shaw, managing partner of Dundas & Wilson, agrees that the changing legal market will require firms to reconsider how they communicate to prospective clients, rather than relying on tradition or quality.

"In a large, diverse market like legal services, a favourable perception of your reputation or brand leads to more opportunity," he says. "It's important to us that we build on our reputation as a market leader and so we're very careful to ensure the DNA of the great things our business stands for is reflected in everything we do.

"A changing legal services landscape means that law firms need to adapt to compete. Quality of service will continue to speak for itself, but it's more important than ever to ensure the market knows who you are and what you can offer.

"Smaller firms in particular may have to face up to the prospect of focused consolidation, especially if highly effective companies such as Tesco seriously enter their market."

But Shaw cautions that branding can only go so far: "Having a brand is a safeguard, but only if you can be seen as having a strong consistent and different proposition – the trade-off being that smaller independent practitioners, used to autonomy, will need to work in a much more consistently branded and organised way to maintain any kind of market presence."

Dianne Paterson, a partner with Edinburgh-based Russel + Aitken, says her firm has recently launched a new marketing campaign – "Bringing the Law to Life" – that focuses on the legal services clients will need throughout their lifetime.

"The campaign, through innovative products and events, simply enforces the message to our clients and the public that we are not only one of the market leaders in this field but that we are also delivering these services to our clients in an energetic and engaging way," she says.

"Not only are people coming in to our offices for such advice but we are going out to the people and are currently involved in a series of road shows to promote our services.

"However, we are strongly of the view that you cannot simply invent a brand. It must be built up over the years from a good solid foundation and have good products at the heart of it."

Traditionally, legal firms were restricted in how they advertised themselves, with practice rules preventing firms from comparing themselves with others on fees or services. The rules were relaxed by the Law Society in 2006, allowing firms to compare themselves with rivals for the first time.

The society itself has recently recognised the importance of marketing, and unveiled its own re-branding earlier this year. A spokeswoman for the Society says the new brand has created consistency and a "stronger and clearer image".

She adds: "A brand is a representation of an organisation and as the Society is currently going through a period of change and modernisation, creating a new brand helped reflect that."

But not everyone in the profession sees the need to change direction in relation to branding and marketing. Louise Kean, the head of communications at Turcan Connell, says the firm will be sticking to its existing marketing plans.

"Looking from the perspective of our clients, both existing and prospective, we need them to know that we are here for them, continuing to provide a service that they need in these uncertain times," she says.

"Now more than ever, they need professional advice which gives them a sense of confidence that their affairs are in good order. So it's the consistency of our message that is crucial at this time.

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