11 January 1999
Leslie Perrin is managing partner of Osborne Clarke. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The One Stop Shop - doncha just love it! There must be some recurring viral dysfunction which causes this crapulous idea to be periodically revived just when civilisation thought it had, like smallpox, been eradicated. If anyone can think of a more discredited marketing concept, I would like to hear about it.
Those of you with long memories will recall legions of major financial institutions which piled into the estate agency business with fond hopes of being able to stitch up the punters with mortgages, insurance and other financial products. Of course, while they were plying purchasers with those products, the estate agencies were actually supposed to be representing the interests of the vendors.
The phrase, "the one-stitch shop" was coined in honour of this strategy, which was to cost the financial institutions' policyholders vast sums when the estate agencies were sold back to their original owners at fractions of their former valuations, the punters having effortlessly seen through the charade.
This story should interest the accountants, who are trying a similar trick with MDPs. The same accountants whose client-service quiver is chock full of such shafts as incorporating offshore, attempts to limit liability (in ways that bear a startling resemblance to the tactics of their so called competitors) and cross selling of such crudeness that it can seem as if the only purpose of any particular job is to provide a platform from which to pursue a new one. Add to this their whistle blowing and regulatory functions and you can understand why their clients are looking the accountants' one stop shops so closely in the mouth.
Ah, the accountants will say, echoing those who bought the estate agencies, there is real client demand for a one-stop solution. Of course, the plain English translation of this is: "There is a sufficient number of clients who we reckon are powerless or too stupid to resist it." However, the really serious obstacle to accountants setting up as law firms is that no self-respecting lawyer would want to work for them.
The accountants can dress it up how they like but their most basic instinct is to sit lawyers in orderly rows and get them to work on instructions given to them by accountants. The truth is that for the best lawyers there has to be a degree of connection between the getting of the work and the doing of it. These lawyers have a deep-seated psychosis that makes them constantly seek new approvals from their clients. They know instinctively that working for accountants will lead to drooping sickness and an early death.
Let's face it: clients think more of their lawyers than of their accountants. All the research that I have seen asserts this as a truth. The best articulation of this was by the chairman of Thorn EMI, following the company's demerger, who said that during a complex transaction involving armies of professional advisers, the only advisers who had no objectives other than his company's objectives were the lawyers from Rowe & Maw. Shame on all the other professionals (unworthy of the name) on that job and glory to R&M and all solicitors.
Much as I would like to believe that this insidious tactic is now confined to accountants, it seems that a number of law firms are launching marketing initiatives such as internet company start-ups as, yes, one-stop shops! Come on, folks, don't be so 20th century about things!