Market-driven failure

I’m prejudiced. Yes, I am. I admit it. And not ashamed.

I bear my prejudice on my sleeve. My prejudice is like-a Beckhamesque tattoo, complex, a list of interwoven resonant words with the odd fig leaf, and a subtly curved lethally sharp-edged scimitar which only becomes visible after careful viewing, but then, once found, dominates my body-art.

My prejudice, if you’re interested – I’d understand if you’ve clicked away into the next market-driven handshake-image we lawyers so-want to own – but, if you are interested, my prejudice is broad, encompassing APIL, MASS, PI Futures Conferences, intermediary pseudo-law businesses with names that have the word 4 embossed in their midst.

But that’s far from the breadth of it.

My prejudice – as I said – is broad – if you’re still interested – including gnomic insurer representatives and apologetic failed representative organisations.

But beyond all, my prejudice is against the gloss and tyranny of market-driven solutions. Whether it’s Mr Mystery Shopper Anon, or Mr Google Paper-Scissors-Rock – or is it Scissors-Paper… – I don’t know, really don’t give a whatsit – or anyone else with 4U or anything like a U-Bizzing tagline.

Am I just a stupid old Luddite? Am I simply stupid? Yes, probably both.

After all, we have regulators, don’t we? Not merely the implausible SRA who deny the existence of cynical circumvention of the referral-fee ban. But market regulators, competition regulators, data abuse regulators. With a purpose, one must assume, to ameliorate pure market economics. Maybe. So how can I possibly justify not lapping up the market-drivers pithy phrases, the wisdom of the clever chaps – and it is mostly chaps – look at the brochures, count the women amongst the suited men – whose depth-plumbing results in burgeoning businesses, or re-engineered businesses, or newly well-capitalised businesses.

Could there be any conceivable sense in denying the authority of the market? Maybe.

Government, lawyers, all educated people (which should be everyone) should be required to ask themselves: is it acceptable or desirable that the market holds is determinative of the economics and the society in which we live?

Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, own the western world. And if they’re not the market, what is? When so much power vests in so few, only a fool wouldn’t kneel in awe begging their blessing.

We’re told Amazon are the pinnacle, the perfect, the Godhead, of market-driven service.

A company that employs immigrant labour working not unlike the mill-workers of old, monitored, time-pressured, system-ruled, data-assessed. Faceless, but for the name, the brand, the customer pathway. In pursuit of what? Yes, what? Please can you answer that question. Service. Gold service.

Did we choose, do we want, one monopolistic corporation to take care of all our consumer needs? Is that the vision of future economy, the vision of retail business, the vision? Government by Amazon.

I did not and do not chose Amazon as my blue-print.

But then, I’m a failure. And a fool. An old warhorse, knackered, and in need of the knackers yard – sorry that’s a challenge to Millennials – etymology, words taken from the pre-digital age.

Let’s just spend a moment on the market-driven solutions in the PI business. You might want to stand back from the gutter-filling bin-bag of failed businesses – Claims Direct, TAG, Quindell, Parabis. Of course, that’s just a smattering of high profile detritus.

Prejudice. Yep, I’m rich in that.

When I enter a room wall to wall with glossy banners of intermediary businesses – market-driven business solutions that exist to provide services to lawyers – my prejudice, my sense of my worth, is that I have no worth other than the money someone else can take from me – these facilitating businesses, facilitate nothing more than their own profit.

Then I must go one step further. I must look at the whole of my profession – even though that profession is now told the appropriate designation is not profession but trade, and yet it is written (splendid bombastic biblical language, eh), yes, it is, into the Code of Conduct) that we must be held to a higher standard, a standard that is not just about profit or cash money. There is even the use of the word “integrity” in the Code of Conduct. Also there are expressions like “best interests of the client”. Quite a lot of that kind of stuff. Principles – that’s not my stuffy-old-git language, that the language of the Code itself. Principles.

What I see is not just my own failure but the failure of all representative bodies, a failure of collective will, the poison of avarice represented by the success of the intermediary businesses.

The SRA, the Law Society, the Bar, the Judiciary, have allowed the law to be bought by external capital which – shock horror probe – has turned law from a person to person specialist representative role which exists to serve the needs of people, to a profit-squeezing data-selling commoditised, mirror-image of insurance – and guess what, the insurers, who are insurers, do it better! Who needs lawyers when you have IT and apprentices? Who needs lawyers when you have the Portal, fixed costs, CMCs, cash-rich service-providing intermediary businesses who will do the whole lot for you?

How stupid are we to say, and how poor is our argument, when we endorse the suggestion the market rules.

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the market has spawned boom and bust, the last bust resulting from unchecked market-driven business abuses – the sub-prime crash. Gnomic insurer-funded talking heads sell the mission of light touch regulation, voluntary codes – cold calling being one such subject of debate. Nonsense. Doctrine. Happy to legislate about the Portal, fixed fees, legal aid, accessibility to JR. Not happy to legislate about reviled and abusive business practices.

Consistency is evidently not the strong point of the money-driven interest groups.

And, just so you know, I’m going to carry on doing what I do.

I think people who want my time usually merit my time. Having done what I do for most of 30 years, I know a bit about it that Mr Shopper Amazon-is-God, doesn’t. I am going to hold myself to the standard I have chosen, not the standard you or any corporation dictate.

Prejudiced. Yes. And remaining so.

John Holtom, solicitor
Disgruntled, acerbic, not a Mystery or Anonymous Shopper.

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