Completing Tesco Law week here on Jobsworth, I thought I would comment on a very interesting post that I read on the “DirectLawUK” blog a couple fo days ago. The central point of the piece was that solicitors have to recognise the difference between a “product” and a “service”. On this thesis, clients want a product whereas solicitors provide a service. With appropriate use of technology solicitors can work more efficiently and thus provide a cheaper service and the firm that can do both will be successful. I think this is too simplistic.
The problem is that the cost of the service is open-ended, whereas a cost of a product is fixed and what clients want is certainty over how much they are going to pay. It is a dichotomy that goes right to the heart of the relationship between solicitors and their clients and is at the heart of the debate over Tesco law.
In terms of commoditised products (such as wills and conveyancing) solicitors are providing a product and that is why so many practitioners are concerned at being wiped out by the introduction of ABSs. The only way that the High Street firms can compete is on quality, especially where the client’s requirements are non-standard (i.e. with high value estates or non-registered property). Where the analysis becomes very challenging though is in respect of litigation where it is very difficult to give a fixed price estimate at the outset of the matter. Can a piece of litigation be defined as a “product”? With the exception of low-value RTA work and, maybe, some employment law cases, litigation can’t really be commoditised. Each case rests on its own facts and the best way to pursue it is with people who know what they are doing. Human beings cost money, especially if they are experienced.
Can Tesco law change that? Potentially by outsourcing the fee-earners to South Africa or India, but is it feasible to have your County Court divorce handled by someone based in Cape Town or Mumbai? What might alter the terms of the debate is if Lord Justice Jackson’s Report on Civil Litigation costs recommends an end to the cost-shifting rule whereby the winner gets his/her costs paid by the losing party. At the moment the only reason I can see Tesco law wanting to get involved in litigious work is if they can do it more cheaply using economies of scale and make a greater profit on the amount recoverable from the loser. If the paying party becomes the client in all cases will that business model be quite so attractive?
I’ll be writing further pieces on Tesco Law over the coming weeks, so please do link to the blog or opt into the RSS feed for updates. Next week I’ll be back on employment law.