Never mind the quality, feel the width!
There is no doubt that solicitors work is becoming increasingly commoditised, driving the call for price transparency and price publication. Frankly, rather than protecting consumers (as we now have to call clients!), this jeopardises the quality of the service they will receive.
Whilst the Legal Services Board drive consumer protection, the pressure to get solicitors to “go public” with their fees, propagates commoditisation and puts price above everything else. If every lawyer competes on price, service will undoubtedly be the victim, as too with be the lawyers bottom line!
Too many firms operate loss leading, low-end fixed fee work, merely to compete, in the hope they will get probate work from cheap Will drafting or bigger residential conveyancing from low-end conveyancing transactions offered to purchasers referred by estate agents.
I readily accept that fixed fees for straightforward commoditised work has its place. However, ultimately many firms are making no money or providing a far from ideal service.
Technology increasingly provides a solution, increasing productivity, with work done by low-grade staff. This can reduce overheads and can turn a profit. However, technology should complement what we do, not be the beginning, middle and end, simply to help us fight a price war!
Where do we want to be in the marketplace? Are we a fast-food drive thru, or a Michelin Star restaurant? In the end, the consumer will no longer be hungry, yet the journey getting there will be very different. Commoditised pricing requires considerable skill in resourcing and implementation to make it work, if we wish to compete in this world.
Clients deserve a price, combined with a level of service, that gives them confidence. How can they be confident by deciding on price alone? Fixed fees give certainty but if set badly, means lost profits. Pricing needs a conversation and offering the best options for the client, not just a “take it or leave it” bargain bucket figure. This will only leave both client and lawyer short-changed!
Pricing failure, leaves us with either write-offs, having that difficult discussion with the client at the end of the job, or both!
We should resist the pressure to publish prices. Perhaps we can compromise by saying that “Our prices start from…” and offer clients bespoke pricing that aligns with the job in hand and their individual needs. This will give us happier clients and more referrals that cost us nothing.