Delia Venables talks to Craig Holt

Delia: How many firms are there now in the Quality group? (You do not keep a list of these on your site at qualitysolicitors.com). And what number are you aiming for?

Craig: We’re currently up to about 110 QS firms, which equates to around 220 “branches” across England & Wales. This will increase quite rapidly as we are currently on a new firm recruitment drive ahead of our marketing campaign in the Spring. Ultimately, total UK-wide coverage will equate to about 500 firms. Each firm has exclusivity in their local area.

Delia: Are these firms changing their name formally to (say) QualitySolicitors Venables? (There are only about 9 firms in the Law Society Directory listed under “Quality” at the moment). Or are some firms deciding not to do this?

Craig: All firms, without exception, are “QualitySolicitors [firm name]” – just not all are registered that way with the Law Society yet! The name change is fundamental to the QS proposition of combining a recognised, national brand with good local firms with well-established strong reputations in their community. QS strengthens rather than subrogates that reputation.

Delia: Are they all now hosting their website on qualitysolicitors.com and redirecting their old web site visitors to the new one? Or are some keeping the old one as well as the new one? Some firms will have had substantial sites before joining you – are you able to take over the content and information they provided previously onto the new site?

Craig: All firms exchange their existing sites for their QS ones (although there are a few still to be redirected). They are free to carry across as much content as they wish and, indeed, we encourage them to ensure that their QS site is full of quality content. We’re actually re-launching the QS site in the New Year with a fresh design. It will be a photography/video rich site which we believe will be one of the best in the legal market.

Delia: Are they all changing their notepaper, signage on the offices, advertising approach, and so on?

Craig: Yes, it is very important that there is visual consistency in the brand and all QS firms fully adopt the QS branding across all elements of their practice. By doing so, we are able to ensure a uniform look and feel to QS branded practices. This is only one element of the “brand” but it is an important part of peoples’ whole experience. We are not McDonalds – we’re not trying to create identikit law-firms and actually the personality and character of each QS firm, reflecting the nature of their locality, is something that’s a vital part of our proposition to the consumer. The key to QS is in retaining that but at the same time ensuring the standards are uniformly high and that the client receives the same quality of service across the QS group.

Delia: How is the WHSmith initiative going?

Craig: This has been a revelation. Its purpose is frequently misunderstood by fellow members of the profession who can’t understand people getting legal advice in a busy, retail environment. In fact, it is not intended to be a source of legal advice but a means by which people can get information on the local QS firm, pick up a brochure, book an appointment/phone call etc. People have responded extremely well to the innovation. Firms have had to work hard at the presence, ensuring the right staff are recruited and that they are well-supported and trained and we’ve had to put a lot of support into this from QS centrally. Where this has been done well, the rewards are now being reaped. Our very best Legal Access Points are generating about 70 details of new potential clients per day.

Another myth perpetuated is that the demographic of those using the “Legal Access Point” service is somehow lower than that sought by many firms. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth with the highest percentage demographic using the service being shown to be “wealthy executives”, followed by “secure families” according to an analysis undertaken for us by CACI (reflective of the analysis of the wider QS-user demographic). More anecdotally, the fact that the LAPs are producing a surprising volume of enquiries from business owners lends support to this analysis.

Delia: And your recent investment announcement – how will that affect your plans?

Craig: Our investment will, literally, transform QS. We are bringing in talented individuals right across the board, in IT, design, marketing, operations, compliance, training, procurement etc. QS firms will get the benefit locally of a well-resourced central operation focused on ensuring their success in their local market. It also means our forthcoming Spring advertising campaign (which is a brand new style of advert, no longer animated) will be like nothing ever before seen in the legal market in terms of scale and quality of production.

The investment will ensure we can help our firms to provide the very best service to consumers and also that we can communicate that fact to consumers in a very high profile way. We are investing significantly in training and innovations in the service provided by QS firms, in order to ensure we have a genuinely differentiated offering. We believe that our consumer proposition is entirely unique – and offers the best of both worlds – as a true national brand, which will become recognised and trusted, but with a service being delivered by well-established, local law firms.

Delia: What is your view of the way that the solicitors market will develop over 2012 (and beyond)?

Craig: The consumer will be king in the “new” market – and rightly so. There will be a plethora of options, brands and types of offering for all legal services. Firms will no longer be able to rely on repeat work or recommendations, as more and more “loyal” clients will explore other options, shop around and truly assess the value in what they are being offered. The current asymmetry of knowledge and information about legal services in favour of the provider will diminish.

Firms’ pricing will be put to the test – and to command a premium over other options it won’t be enough to simply offer a “personal service” or a good legal service. Firms need to look for true differentiators over their competitors, both locally and nationally. To the extent that firms believe anything like the status quo is an option, such a strategy is going to be found seriously deficient in the coming months and years. “Wait and see” is equally extremely dangerous as, for many, by the time you’ve “seen”, it’ll be too late”¦

Craig Holt is Chief Executive of QualitySolicitors. He studied law at Oxford University before becoming a barrister specialising in family law. He founded QualitySolicitors following his own frustrating experience of selecting and using a high street law firm for his conveyancing.

Email craigholt@qualitysolicitors.com.

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