WHSmith, Coronation Street, and the FA Cup Final: what happened to QualitySolicitors?

From a boxroom in Leicester to having 200 law firms adopt its branding, the odyssey of QualitySolicitors was one like no other.

Here, Saleem Arif, co-founder of QualitySolicitors, tells all: the idea, working from his car, WHSmith, Amanda Holden, the FA Cup Final, private equity, and the eventual end, as well as discussing his current initiative – ReviewSolicitors.

Saleem, let’s start at the beginning – where did QualitySolicitors come from?

I launched QualitySolicitors in 2008 with Craig Holt, a friend. He was a barrister. I was a marketing consultant, and he rang me one day.

We thought, “why isn’t there a legal brand that you could go to when you need decent service? I don’t need the cheaptest firm; I just want somebody who knows what to do.” That was the idea behind QualitySolicitors – to create a legal brand with high standards that people could expect good service from.

We started from a Leicester boxroom in January 2009, and it really took off.

What we managed to do is to persuade law firms to rebrand themselves as QualitySolicitors around the country.

The Legal Services Act meant that the likes of Tesco, the Co-op, and the Halifax, were all expected to enter the legal market. So, lots of smaller firms were suddenly thinking, “we’re under some serious threat – people will go to a big brand they recognise”.

So what we thought was, “if we could bring these brands together under a single brand recognisable to the public, they would have a good chance of withstanding this competition.”

We managed to persuade 200 firms, which is 400 branches, to rebrand as QualitySolicitors.

I spent about two-and-a-half years practically working from my car, going up and down the country, persuading law firms.

It was a really exciting time. We had a deal with WHSmith where we could take a section of every store in the country.

We had Amanda Holden as the face of QualitySolicitors doing TV adverts for us. We had adverts during the FA Cup Final in 2011, during Coronation Street, and so on. It was great to see a business that had only been going for two-and-a-half years do so well.

What went wrong?

You know, hitting the prime time, it’s great. My ex-business partner and I sold 51% of the business to private equity in November 2011, principally because we wanted to expand more rapidly, and we were concerned that somebody else could come in with deeper pockets and could supplant our position.

Unfortunately, the private equity firm took the business in a direction both Craig and I disagreed with.

We wanted to use a lot of the money to centralise back-office systems and cut costs for firms. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what the private equity firm wanted to do.

In 2015, you founded ReviewSolicitors, the UK’s largest legal review site with some 2,500 law firms now actively collecting reviews on the platform. How did this come about?

I launched ReviewSolicitors with two friends in 2015.

It was probably a little bit early to have started that business, and the initial reaction from law firms was, “so we need to pay you to help us collect reviews, some of which might be negative. Are you out of your mind?”

The world has now changed. People expect to see reviews. You wouldn’t book a hotel without looking on TripAdvisor, and it’s the same for legal services. Just because somebody has recommended a firm to you, it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t type in the name of that firm online to see what information I can find both about the firm and the individual solicitor that I’m thinking about using.

Fast-forward to now, we’ve listened carefully to what law firms said they wanted, and we have a live feed from the SRA, so all 12,000 firms have a page on ReviewSolicitors. Firms can upgrade from their free profile to a premium membership, and that means that they get lots of extra features to their page, and we can help them collect their reviews stress-free, showcasing them to maximum effect.

Lots of law firms send out paper questionnaires to clients. It’s time-consuming. It has a pretty low response rate.

We’re integrated with virtually all the major case management systems, like LEAP and Clio, and it just means that as a firm I can just simply ask my clients for feedback with the press of a button on my CMS, and there’s a 35-40% response rate.

A firm’s ReviewSolicitors page is also one of the first things you see on Google, and it’s persuading people to actually use those firms. It’s generating a lot of new enquiries and lots of new work as a result. We have had 5,000,000 visitors to the ReviewSolicitors site in the past year.

Aside from generating new enquiries, does ReviewSolicitors have any bearing on the transparency requirements imposed upon firms?

I know the SRA has been encouraging firms to be collecting reviews. In conveyancing, for example, it’s now commonplace to publish pricing for services on a firm’s website. Yet, those prices in isolation don’t mean much – just because somebody is cheap doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily a good choice.

The thing is, if you’re forced to publish your fees and the potential client has no other way to be able to decide between you as a client, they will often pick the cheapest as they can’t tell them apart. It becomes a race to the bottom.

This will make standards worse over time because people are looking to cut costs in order to gain work.

We can we enable good firms, that maybe are a little more expensive, to actually be able to justify it. To say, look, we actually provide a great service, and you can see this.

Things like conveyancing – for many people, that’s the biggest purchase they’re ever going to make in their lives. When you’re making such a huge transaction, penny pinching over £100 isn’t sensible.

Is it fair to say that ReviewSolicitors could open firms up to negative online reviews?

What ReviewSolicitors has done is give law firms control. They know that the reviews that are being left are genuine and they always have the right to reply.

But if the review left is defamatory or it’s not by a real client, they can have the review taken down immediately.

That means the firm knows that if somebody leaves something that is unfair, there’s a lot that they can do about it.

However, firms typically have around a 90% satisfaction rate. Most clients are generally quite satisfied with the work that they receive.

It gives them the chance to show that to potential clients to say, look, you know we actually are good at what we do.

Firms that join ReviewSolicitors know they provide a good service and through the platform, we enable them to let as many people know as possible.

With thanks to Saleem Arif. Visit the ReviewSolicitors site here.

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