Tesco Law

I just caught the end of BBC Breakfasts discussion on the new Legal Services Act 2007, which changes the way solicitors firms are owned.

This probably sounds like one of the least exciting topics in history, but it is important to everybody.

Currently certain activities can only be carried out by qualified solicitors and for good reason.  In my own main practice area, criminal law, many people have this idea that what criminal lawyers do is very easy.  In fact, a lot of other lawyers think it's easy and will happily dabble in criminal law, often to the detriment of their clients.  In one case in which I acted, a co-defendant's commercial solicitor got involved in a cash forfeiture application.  On one course I attended that solicitor's actions were described as "stupid" and "ill-considered".  The solicitor didn't understand what he was doing and caused a loss of tens of thousands of pounds to his client.  My client avoided that unnecessary loss.  If that can happen with a qualified lawyer, imagine how your life could be ruined by a completely unqualified person conducting a criminal law case!

I recently took some advice from a marketing expert.  He was very nice and a great marketer.  But, he completely failed to understand that a solicitor owes a duty to his client and that a solicitor must put his client first - that means ahead of the solicitor's own interests!  All of the ideas that my marketer devised would have generated a huge client base but I had serious concerns about how he intended to achieve it and so I refused to go ahead with any of his schemes!

Once companies like Tesco and the Co-Op own law firms does anybody seriously think that their drive for profit will mean that they put their customers first?

We expect that most companies coming into the market will follow the lead of the Co-Op and target will writing, personal injury and probate.

The will writing sector is already in crisis and co-incidentally has been unregulated for years.  Yes, if you aren't worried about inheritance tax, what happens to your children or ensuring that your will is going to be valid you can buy a will online for less than £30.  But, I wouldn't recommend it.  Because people think that will writing is easy and anybody can do it there has been widespread criticism of will writers who require no legal qualifications to set up and get into business.  Let me put this very simply.  If you have any assets and die without a properly drafted will then there is a good chance that your assets will go to a probate lawyer as your family (or others) fight over what you leave behind.  I have one client who stands to inherit about £5,000.  His father died without a will and now the family are fighting over the money despite being warned several times that by the time they finish fighting they will have spent their entire inheritance on solicitors, barristers and court fees!

Things have got so bad that there are now proposals to regulate will writing services, just as claims handlers in personal injury are now regulated by the MOJ after the free for all that occurred in the 1990s and early noughties.

Will other parts of the legal sector go the same way?  Do you really want a big company that is solely driven by profits handling your loved one's estate after their death?  I'm not suggesting that solicitors are for profit businesses, but a solicitor owes a client a duty to put that client first.  Breaching that duty can and does lead to solicitors being struck off and losing their career.  There are very real and serious consequences for solicitors personally who break the rules.

While I'm sure that the Co-Op have only their client's best interests at heart, it's worth noting that the very nice man who heads up their legal division, which will be providing solicitor services to the public, isn't even a solicitor!


  1. "Do you really want a big company that is solely driven by profits handling your loved one's estate after their death? I'm not suggesting that solicitors are for profit businesses, but a solicitor owes a client a duty to put that client first."

    Not sure whether you`re warning against "company" or "big". Lawyers are in business.....no profits and they`re unemployed. Perhaps your warning is against PLCs and the interests of shareholders putting pressures on lawyers. Similar pressures could be said to apply to dentists employed by corporate bodies or Tesco`s optometrists. These individuals also have the same obligations to their clients[patients] as your legal colleagues.

    1. You are right, Solicitors are just doing there Duty,Their client is the most important thing for them and They put their client's side in the court room.

      Solicitors In Surrey

  2. We don't want to use lawyers who are in it to make money do we?

    I know someone who runs an international steel company and he can't even weld.

    Fear of competition boys? There must be room for improvements in the value to clients then.

  3. As I said, I took advice from a marketing man who completely disregarded all of the professional ethics that a solicitor owes to his client. He didn't do anything that you wouldn't expect from somebody who was trying to sell you a washing machine but what he did propose was totally unacceptable for a solicitor to agree to.

    That is what will come from involving big businesses that are solely driven by profit. It will lead to a culture shift among the new lawyers coming into the profession and will increase the risk to consumers.

    Mary, with respect to your friend who runs a steel company. It really is neither here nor there whether he can weld. But, when it comes to the provision of legal services a small mistake can truly ruin somebody's life. Let's say, for example, you decide to buy a house and the conveyancer makes a mistake that means you end up only owning half of the house - as happened to somebody I know once. If your conveyancer lacks the necessary insurance then you are basically buggered. I, for example, am require to have a minimum of £3M of indemnity insurance per claim in case I make a mistake. Other solicitors who deal in high value transactions will have even higher indeminity levels.

    I said it before and I say it again - the will writing business is in crisis and, to be frank, solicitors make a lot of money out of it because you go along and have you will drafted by an unqualified person who makes lots of mistakes. Then a nice friendly solicitor has to help your relatives go to court to sort things out.

    Tesco law is no competition for me - I cannot imagine any major company wanting to get into criminal law!

  4. Incidentally, JOP I'd like to point out that you can't even trust some of these big businesses not to fix the price of milk and you are confident that they won't drive to maximise profits in every area of their business.

    Would they turn away a paying punter because of a potential conflict when there are sales targets to be met? Will they establish a Great Wall to overcome any potential conflicts and invest in the necessary conflict checking that will need to be done to avoid them suing their own clients, for example.

  5. Speaking as a total layperson: just how complicated can will-writing be? Surely you just list all your possessions, alongside the person/organisation/entity that you want to receive them when you die? What more is there to it?

  6. Cabbage, it's actually quite a specalist skill. In fact, lawyers can make a fortune because people think writing a will is very easy and end up making mistakes.

    A simple mistake in the execution, e.g. making a gift to your son then having his wife witness your will seems like a minor error but will invalidate every gift you give to your son! How do you deal with a potential invalid gift in the will?

    Where your estate has a value above the inheritance tax threshold then a will can be arranged so as to avoid or mitigate the tax burden on your estate - so your loved ones end up with more. Then again, maybe you are one of the very few people who enjoy paying tax.

    There may also be questions as to what happens if your beneficiary or executor dies before you. Where do you stand if you have another child or grandchild after the will is written. What if you own a business, how will you deal with that? Will you take account of whether your home is held jointly or in common?

    A very simple will can just list items and say who gets what but for most people who own a home and maybe have a few pounds in the bank (maybe from a retirement fund for example) there is a genuine benefit from having a will written by somebody who knows what they are doing.

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