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When 'quality' is not quality
'Quality Marks' again…

At one time, to describe a friend as 'gay' meant only that he or she was bright and happy. Whatever ‘gay’ now means, it is not immediately and necessarily the happy state formerly described. The word was selected to make a political assertion – that being homosexual is a happy state. Well, that is fine, and it is a battle won or lost according to your choice. I am happy to refer to homosexual friends as gay, and to avoid use of the word for its true meaning. I am happy for homosexual friends, but slightly disturbed for the loss to the English language. If it helps, then I will just put up with the loss a small word.

The word ‘quality’ is going the same way. The description 'a quality item', used to mean that the item referred to was of a high standard. In the new gobbledygook, it means no more than that it has passed through a lowest common denominator checklist, and has come out the other end undisturbed by the application of intelligent thought. It involves the implicit assertion that, having passed that checklist, no further effort is appropriate to produce anything of any greater value. All work is passed down to the level at (or just below) which, the checklist can safely be passed. Nothing better is paid for, and nothing better will be given. The word ‘quality’ has come to be used to mean its precise opposite: a consistent but low standard, is a permanently low standard.

The Legal Services Commission's Franchise and contracting system is just that. It is an attempt to reduce costs, to ensure that all clients get the same standard low-grade service. All the boxes are ticked – so provided your life fits the boxes, its ok. It will penalise any firm who tries to achieve anything higher, because any firm, which spends creative or true ‘quality’ time on a case, will not be paid for the extra effort. All divorces, all criminal cases, all litigation, and all clients are required to be the same.

The words 'Quality service' are exactly and purely derived from a system for controlling costs. They say that a service will not be below par. They say nothing at all, zero, nada, about how high that par is set.

What all this denies, is that lawyering is a creative task. It denies that clients are different and that every client’s problem is different. A client comes in with problem ‘A.’ He may have lived with it, let it fester for some time, and come to be able only to see it in one way. The low-quality assured approach takes his problem at face value, and takes whatever answers are available from the standard list. The client’s blinkers are happily applied with the assistance of the check-list, and the answer could have been provided happily without troubling to ask the client to begin with.

This is a shameful, tawdry, way of practising law, but hey … the Legal Services Commission pay the piper, and they call the tune.

People sometimes think that the word 'Limited' in the name of a company is a sign of respectability. It is not. It is a warning. Though misunderstood, it is at leats honest. The words 'A quality service' are a lie, they are intended to be misunderstood.

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Copyright and Database Rights: David Swarbrick 2012
18 October 2013 221 18 October 2013