It’s approaching the millennium – everyone is gearing up for a new century and all the prospects and aspirations the year 2000 could bring.
In a rural barn conversion, deep in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside, there were people with those same hopes, dreams and expectations. They started a journey that would transform Will Writing and challenge the rigid perception of the legal sector.
Wills & Legal Services was born, set up by husband and wife Tony and Sarah Watson and friend Emma Hodges.
The trio’s background in the financial services sector stood them in good stead. They realised there was a huge multi-million pound industry waiting to be embraced. And so the business model was shifted to any form of protection – Wills, Estate Planning, Powers of Attorney – you name it, they were going to offer it.
Tony, Sarah and Emma believed it was quite a simple thought process. As we gain wealth in our lifetime, we all protect our assets – such as buildings insurance, contents insurance, car insurance and more. So you have peace of mind that, for instance, if your house fell off a hill, your buildings insurance would put it back again. Having all these insurances ensures that you never, ever lose them.
Estate planning for later life is exactly the same principle as taking out insurance policies.
You do the work that we advise you to put in place so that if anything happens in the future, it’s not lost. Death can be a difficult, emotive subject to discuss. But when you pass away, Wills & Legal Services ensures your family inherits what you’ve left behind.
A new dawn
Wills & Legal Services came out of the Financial Services sector really excited. If the Will Writing industry was nurtured with the positive approach of ‘protecting your assets like you have done’, it would be successful. The downside was that the Will Writing industry wasn’t regulated. And that was a real concern for us. Because of this, and because our background was within a regulated environment, there were no recognised parameters to work to.
When you’re regulated, there are a set of rules you can work to. This wasn’t the case here, but we weren’t about to give up.
Undaunted, we retrained as paralegals and started to recruit people who believed in this vision. Meanwhile, we hounded the government to regulate the industry. Vulnerable clients – which many of our company’s customers are – were assured they were dealing with people they could trust. As in life, once trust is lost, things go wrong. We pledge never to break that trust. We pushed and pushed to wake the government up to this much-needed regulation. But when they did, their reaction was to assess why the Will Writing industry should be regulated.
A subsequent Legal Services Board report stated that Will Writing shouldn’t be regulated, as there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that bad practice was specific to the Will Writing industry. The board noted it was across the whole legal profession and recommended the consumer should have choice.
Wills & Legal Services wanted to set the agenda and so trained people as paralegals.
As the business expanded we hired qualified paralegals, brought on through the National Association of Licensed Paralegals.
In 2011 Wills & Legal Services went from a partnership to a public limited company. Exciting times.
Setting the standard
Anyone who works for Wills & Legal Services now has to be a member of this organisation; they are DBS checked and do continuous professional development training. We expect it because we set high standards which we want replicated when our paralegals visit you at home. Our ongoing training ensures all our paralegals are up to date with what’s expected.
But we went one step further. Rather than just being individually qualified paralegals, we ensured that our company was a paralegal law firm, so that all our policies, and everything we did within the company, ran alongside a regulated industry. So our clients know that we have:
- £2 million professional indemnity insurance
- Specialist paralegals across the whole of the UK
- A dedicated, qualified legal department
- Our own regulated firm of solicitors
- Our own regulated financial advisors
The birth of WLS Solicitors
A key goal was to set up our own firm of solicitors. This took us three years to establish the best way to do in order to best help people. So we set up an alternative business structure.
WLS Solicitors started in 2016 and is in its fourth year of trading. It started with one solicitor in a corridor of one of our offices. Three years on, we have a team of 17 staff. We’re now one of the biggest Wills Trust Processing and Conveyancing Law Firms in the country.
The birth of WLS Financial Services
Eager to offer more services, we saw the opportunity of going back into financial services to gain regulation from The Financial Conduct Authority (formerly the Financial Services Authority).
The reason we came out of it was because it was an absolute mess – sloppy regulation, haphazard rules – it was punishing the advisors, to put it bluntly. We watched them go from sitting three appointments a day to just three a week. The rest of the time they were sitting in the office.
Financial services has cleaned up its act and we spread our wings. A year ago we set up WLS Financial Services, starting off with just one member of staff. We now employ four people in this department. Over the next two years we’re looking to expand this team to 25 advisors across England and Wales. They’ll specialise in investments, pensions, inheritance tax advice and much more.
What you see is what you get
A key thing that makes us unique is that we are completely transparent with our clients. All our prices are on our website. Not because we feel like doing it, but because we want all our customers to know they are at the forefront of everything we do. We want our clients to know up front what we charge, what we stand for, what we represent. And we want them to know that we will speak to them in plain English and always respect them. We always put our clients first. We’re as close to being regulated as you get in an unregulated environment.
Our commitment to charity
Wills & Legal Services does an awful lot of charity work – we’ve raised valuable funds for the County Air Ambulance Trust HELP Appeal over the past five years.
When we visit clients in their homes, the first thing we do is explain how our Charity Will works. We waive our regular fees but ask people to make a donation to the charity, usually £40, but you can donate more or less. We get nothing, nor do we expect anything. Our clients are happy because they get their Will and the satisfaction they supported a charity.
We’re happy because we showcase all the other valuable services we offer and meet new clients. We know that if you like the service we offer and the advice we give, you’ll come back to us in the future.
The WLS Charity Wills campaign has raised over £1 million for local and national charities plus over £2.5 million in legacies.
Our specialist Paralegals write Wills for free in exchange for a donation to charity.
The future: Watch us grow!
In the last 20 years, we’ve gone from just three staff to 130. From a rural setting in the Worcestershire countryside to our large offices in Worcester Road, Malvern Link, where our head office is.
We have staff working for us across the country. From dedicated in-store Charity Will representatives you see at the supermarket, to qualified paralegals offering you professional advice in your home.
We’re here to help you. Just like in the millennium, we still have hopes, dreams and aspirations, both for our clients and our staff. We’re growing from a family firm to a much larger company. We don’t lose sight of where we came from. Family values are always close to our heart.
We’re trusted by more than 120,000 clients and counting, but it’s not going to stop there. It’s all about trust and we never lose sight of that. Trust, transparency, honesty, putting clients first and speaking in plain English – these are our commitments to our customers.