Backlash over Will Aid email promotion

An article was recently featured in the Law Gazette about a recent Will Aid promotion, which highlights the importance of using a solicitor when drafting your will. Article by Michael Cross.

Charity Will Aid has apologised to solicitors for emailing thousands of members of the public with a wills promotion in partnership with Co-operative Legal Services containing the words ‘you don’t have to see a solicitor’.

The Gazette understands that several solicitors and firms have reacted by withdrawing from Will Aid.

Under Will Aid, set up in 1988, participating solicitors waive their fee for writing a basic will in return for a donation to charity. The controversial email was sent to 10,000 people who had failed to get wills written under the scheme, promoting ‘alternative offers’ from one of three partners who had agreed to donate part of their fee.

These were the C-op, The Goodwill Partnership and Which? Wills.

One solicitor who saw an email promoting the Co-op partnership told the Gazette: ‘It was rather a kick in the teeth after many years of pro bono support by solicitors.’

In a statement, James Huitson, Will Aid’s chair said: ‘I would like to say sorry for any offence caused to individuals and their firms as a result of a recent promotion offered by us outside of the traditional November Will Aid month.’

He said the controversial promotion was a ‘limited piece of test marketing’ due to end on 15 August.

‘It is aimed solely at people who still wanted to make a will through Will Aid but found that all the appointments were taken in their area. The gap between the number of available appointments and the number of prospective will-writers has been increasing each year and this was an attempt to address the problem.’

Huitson added: ‘We should have been more sensitive to any potential upset this would cause and the impact of this on our relationship with some of the firms that have supported us in the past.

‘We would like to apologise for this. It is a lesson learned and will form significant part of how we evaluate future activity outside of our November campaign. We also remain absolutely committed to promoting the value of solicitors in the promotion of legally valid wills.’

A letter from Emma Lockwood at Manak Solicitors was also published in the same issue of Law Gazette in response to the campaign:

‘Co-op alliance is unacceptable’

We will sever all ties with Will Aid following its decision to ‘team up’ with – and effectively advertise – Co-operative Legal Services

Manak Solicitors has participated in the Will Aid scheme for a number of years, raising more than £13,000 for the good causes it supports. We initially decided to participate in the scheme to fulfil our corporate social responsibility aims, as promoted by the Law Society and as part of our commitment to pro bono work generally.

We were naturally very disappointed to learn that Will Aid has decided to ‘team up’ with Co-operative Legal Services. The announcement was made in what can only be described as an advertisement for CLS, fully endorsed by Will Aid.

Some high street practitioners may recall some of the many unpalatable soundbites from CLS denigrating our profession, such as: ‘It’s a natural thing for the Co-op to put the customer at the heart of our plans. For a solicitor it’s an alien approach’ (marketing director Ian Mackie, Marketing Week 2013).

This of course, is at odds with the language used by the Will Aid scheme. For many years the scheme has proclaimed that those solicitors participating are ‘good’, even providing us with a halo on the certificate to confirm receipt of funds.

We can only assume that the tie-up has a financial incentive for the Will Aid scheme and those solicitors who participated in it, have, up until now, simply served their purpose. On the other hand, perhaps the Co-op Group is seeking to review its own CSR duties, particularly in light of the Paul Flowers debacle.

In any event, Manak Solicitors feels Will Aid’s blatant advert for CLS is unacceptable and we will henceforth sever all ties with the scheme. We trust other high street practitioners will take the same view.

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