LETTERS: Good advice and good value from solicitors

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The Independent Online
Sir: Further to the letter from Keith Richards, senior lawyer with the Consumers' Association (9 October), I am the managing partner of a large Midlands firm outside Birmingham. My firm has to maintain a full service, satisfactory to our clients, rewarding to our staff and profitable to our partners. I have no problem with knowing that my firm has staff who are perfectly able to give the correct answers to the Which? questions. My problem is how to match the knowledge to the inquirer at the time of inquiry.

My reaction to the Which? article was immediately to thank heaven that my firm was not telephoned, then to photograph the article and call a meeting of the relevant partners to try to set up another quality filter to ensure the recording and cross-checking of advice given (probably free) on the telephone - on top of Franchising Standards, LawNet Quality Standards, Law Society Practice Management Standards on their way, and sometime in the not-too-distant future, Investors in People and ISO 9000.

I and my partners can administer the bulk of standard matters in a cost- conscious way - conveying houses, divorce petitions, debt collection, housing problems, wills, etc. We can advertise and provide free legal surgeries where we set up a controlled system that can filter out and cross-check advice and answers. What we have not yet cracked is how to filter the non-standard inquiry from the standard with 100 per cent success at the first point of lowest contact.

In relatively small communities, we have to hold ourselves out to that community, and particularly to our professional colleagues in advisory services such as the Citizens' Advice Bureau, as willing to give an instant answer to a set of facts filtered by the caller, but using our experience to spot the maverick problem. I suspect that our specialised experience and training can give genuine help to more than 90 per cent of callers. The business skill is in working out how to cover the remaining up to 10 per cent without setting up so many checks and balances that we cease to be profitable. It is a matter of balance and continuous endeavour.

Yours endeavouring,

J.S. Quinn

Malvern Wells, Worcestershire

9 October