This month the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland is contained within a pink and black wrapper announcing that “QualitySolicitors comes to Scotland”. Apparently, QualitySolicitors are “currently selecting Partner Firms ahead of a summer launch of the brand in Scotland”.
QualitySolicitors have of course already been here before. My firm, Inksters, was the founding member firm of QualitySolicitors in Scotland when they originally launched north of Hadrian’s Wall just over three years ago on 11 May 2009. Morisons became the second member firm sometime thereafter and I believe other firms joined on a limited personal injury panel basis. However, my firm decided not to rebrand as QualitySolicitors Inksters and left the organisation to concentrate on building brand Inksters. The other original Scottish member firms also left and they currently have no member firms in Scotland. So perhaps ‘QualitySolicitors return to Scotland’ would be a more appropriate headline.
There was also a bit of déjà vu when I saw the latest Journal. Had I not seen this before? I looked through my back copies of The Firm Magazine and there it was. Back in September/October 2010: The QualitySolicitors – Special Edition. Not a removable wrapper but emblazoned across the front page with the inside cover, inside back cover and back page devoted to promoting QualitySolicitors. The message back then:-
Only one firm in each town and city across the UK will be permitted to become a branded firm. Act now to secure your location before your competitors do.
With a slight variation in the wording the same message is the one used on the Journal wrapper. So if law firms in Scotland weren’t rushing to sign up in 2010 will they be doing so in 2012?
I had thought, however, that we were getting up to 10 branches of QualitySolicitors in Scotland in January 2012. This was the message given in a two page spread in The Sunday Herald back in November 2011: ‘Buy a divorce … at a supermarket near you‘. This article told us that “looming like a rather apocalyptic shadow is the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, which when it comes into force next autumn will allow supermarkets and other non-legal firms to compete with solicitors for business for the first time”. We were then warned that “the advance guard, which is called Quality Solicitors, will be entering the market in January”. According to the article they only launched in England & Wales last May (did I just imagine Inksters were members for two years before that?!) and had amassed 220 branches in just 6 months (the reality being nearer 3 years). We learn in the Sunday Herald article that QualitySolicitors is aiming to have 1200 branches throughout the UK by the end of this year with “the Scottish wing of this blitzkrieg” involving “opening between five and 10 branches in January in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere, and having 200 by year end”. The Chief Executive of QualitySolicitors, Craig Holt, is quoted as saying:-
I make no bones about it that we think that we can take a dominant share of the consumer and small business legal market in Scotland… Solicitors should be worried, at least the ones that we are not working with.
So what happened to the 10 branches that were supposed to launch in January in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere? The only sign I have seen of QualitySolicitors in Scotland this year is the service point in WH Smith in Sauchiehall Street with a phone that rings through to a law firm in Carlisle (who can perhaps handle your English law problems but unlikely your Scottish ones).
I was heartened to read on The Journal wrapper that the latest QualitySolicitors TV advert will be shown more than 5,000 times across Scotland this month. The first TV advert (I compared the two QualitySolicitors TV adverts in a recent blog post) was not shown in Scotland when there were Scottish member firms and now the latest TV advert is being shown when there are none. It has been commented on by others that the latest TV advert is perhaps aimed at potential new members rather than potential new clients.
It will be interesting to see which, if any, law firms in Scotland do take the plunge of becoming the first Scottish fully branded QualitySolicitors firms (Inksters and Morisons were members before the requirement to be fully branded as QualitySolicitors was introduced). It possibly will happen but I doubt if QualitySolicitors will get anywhere near their target of 200 branches (they like to give statistics by branches rather than firms) in Scotland by the end of this year.
In the meantime why the slow uptake of QualitySolicitors in Scotland so far? Is it because the development of Alternative Business Structures (ABS) in Scotland is a little further behind the development of ABS in England & Wales? Is it because ABS in Scotland, when they do arrive, will be different from ABS in England & Wales – with 51% solicitor ownership being required this side of the border? Is it because law firms in Scotland are fiercely independent entities? Are Scottish law firms more fearful of change? Or is there some other reason? What do you think?
Note: My law firm, Inksters, became, in May 2009, the founding Scottish Member firm of QualitySolicitors. This was before QualitySolicitors became the branded organisation that it is today. We decided not to rebrand as QualitySolicitors Inksters but instead left QualitySolicitors and are building our own unique brand Inksters. I believe that QualitySolicitors could be a good fit for certain high street law firms but was no longer the correct direction for Inksters to pursue. My comments on this blog are not related in any way to Inksters one time membership of QualitySolicitors and if considered in any way to be critical should be taken in the constructive sense.