The comparing of qualities…

Wigster.com are apparently getting ready for a November launch. Regular readers of the blog will know I take an interest in how web intermediaries will impact on legal services. They’ll probably drive a trend towards more fixed pricing and I hope (and expect) they will increase transparency. The impact on quality is more intriguing. I have already discussed QualitySolicitors approach to quality. They sign up firms on the basis of things like reputation, management standards and some (fairly basic) service standards. As I understand it, Wigsters approach is simpler: control of quality comes principally through the publication of customer ratings. The Amazon approach to legal services, if you like. As I have noted on legions of occasions, this will mean a focus on service quality rather than technical quality, and I have a concern that technical quality risk being underplayed by such an approach (you Mum gets a will, she rates a solicitor 5-star, what does that mean really?).

The other problem is the ‘solicitors-from-hell’ scenario: the legal press have reported a series of injunction against the eponymous site for failing to remove allegations against firms that they alleged were without substance (they try and charge to have them removed). Will Wigsters be crippled by similar tactics (I am assuming they wouldn’t dream of charging)? How will they react when a firm sees a 1-star rating and asks for it to be taken down? How will they react when they are threatened with litigation? A problem to watch. Nevertheless the Wigster approach has the potential to be relatively cheap and that means lower referral fees, a benefit to firms and clients. It’ll be genuinely interesting to see what levels of quality assurance clients go for. Currently, its believed clients show some interest in specialisation and locality but otherwise assume all lawyers are competent. It may be in some intermediaries’ interests to tell them otherwise. Such approaches might drive service quality up: will any be brave enough to tackle technical quality? Maybe, in time: already one can see a dividing line of sorts between Wigsters and QS.

To make a much more trivial point, both Wigster and QualitySolicitors appears to relay on animated characters in their marketing material. Are they trying to tell the profession something? When it comes to the avatars: it is what looks like a bewigged phone versus Elastigirl’s kid sister. Well, in the cartoon stakes at least, first round to QS….

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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2 Responses to The comparing of qualities…

  1. Nick Miller says:

    Wiggy Wigster taking second place in the cartoon stakes, poor Wiggy. Hopefully Wiggy Wigster will be able to find a few supporters when he hits the TV on 8th November 2010.
    On a more serious note – to us service standards and client experience are important factors, it is for that reason we allow the clients we refer to firms to provide feedback on those firms. This is done in a simple fashion at this stage, the client would rate the firm out of 5 stars based on Speed of Response, Communication, Satisfaction with Outcome and Professionalism. A mean average can then be taken to provide an overall 5 star rating.
    I suppose it is open for Mum to providing a rating, and hopefully she will do so based on her consumer experience. I am sure that Mum can give a view as to whether the firm / lawyer appeared to know what they were talking about and the perceived knowledge of the subject area. This does raise the very interesting point on “technical quality”. Are clients best placed to assess firms on technical quality? Or is technical quality something which the SRA and our peers would be best placed to rate?
    As for the “Solicitors from Hell” scenario, I like many other lawyers find this site “inappropriate and questionable” to say the least. I would like to assure you that there will be no similarities at all, we will certainly not charge to take comments down and we will proactively seek to ensure that the rating system is not abused.
    We envisage that as with most things you cannot please all of the people all of the time, so from time to time firms may receive a low rating from one dissatisfied client, but with the rating based on an average of all reviews I am sure that genuinely good service will attract good ratings overall. Hopefully in a situation where a firm has 100 reviews, giving say 4 stars, then one person scoring 1 star will not detract. This review based system is used in many other areas of business and we feel it will translate well to legal services.
    I would be happy to discuss the wigster.com further if required.

  2. Pingback: Instant Fish: Commodification and the Salmonella Problem « Lawyer Watch

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