Legal use of TV to lay down the law

When accountants took to the airwaves, it was a disaster. Now lawyers are showing them how to do it. Roger Trapp reports
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Most accountants would admit that their work is not a natural fit for television. How many accountancy drama series have there been?

So it was hardly surprising when a few years ago an attempt to put bean- counting matters on TV soon ended in failure and a pile of debts. Rather more surprising is that someone is giving the idea another go.

This time, the College of Law rather than the accountancy profession is behind the venture. At a time when accountants are targeting law practices as lucrative sources of revenue, this may look like an attempt at retaliation.

But Peter Reekie, managing director of Legal Network Television, the college's video training subsidiary, says: "We are not trying to turn accountants into lawyers, but we are enabling them to work more efficiently with their legal partners."

He claims that by allowing accountancy firms to tap into the programmes the organisation produces for practising lawyers the college is providing "a cost-effective service by which accountants can update themselves on changes in the law that affect their work and services".

And while there was little obvious sign of a need for the sort of programmes made by the old accountancy television set-up, those involved in the current venture insist that they are reacting to customer demand.

David Chitty, technical partner with Chantrey Vellacott, which has tried out the service and subsequently signed up, has clearly been won over, describing the service as "an invaluable addition to the training needs" of the firm's staff. He points out: "Overlapping services between lawyers and accountants are evolving ... Accountants need more information about the law. Who better to provide it than the largest legal education organisation?"

Susanna Riviere, training manager at the London law firm Harbottle and Lewis, attended the service's launch last month as an established user of the college's materials. Pointing out that the professionally-made videos featuring prominent practitioners and commentators form only one strand in the firm's approach to training, she says that there are many areas of the law that are as relevant to accountants as to lawyers. "It will save time if accountants and working lawyers receive up-to-date training on the latest changes and the general legal background to them."

Firms will be offered a choice of 10 to 40 tapes a year from the company's total output of 90. Charges will range from pounds 450 for a sole practitioner subscribing to 10 tapes, to pounds 4,785 for a firm with 50 or more accountants signing up for all 40.

It is envisaged that firms will use them as the basis of discussions, during training courses or over lunches. And this emphasis on training, says Philip Shohet, of the practice development consultancy Kato, who is helping to market the concept, sets the initiative apart from the earlier, ill-starred venture. By adopting a magazine format covering developments in accountancy, the earlier service - with which he was also involved on the marketing side - never really provided enough depth to satisfy subscribers.

To judge from the video on auditing, which forms part of the original package, superficiality will not be a charge that can be levelled at the current series. And, while some may think that auditing is an odd programme to start with - given that accountants should already know about it - there appears to be a feeling that they are not always up to speed with the legal aspects of their duties.

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