Where have we heard that before?  In fact it was used again only this week in the media over the proposals to extend the normal school day!

But in our profession it has never been more important for practitioners to keep their knowledge up to date.

The successful practitioner has to be confident, when seeing a potential client that no two clients are the same and all have different problems and ideas on how they see their estates devolving.  Even in the simplest and most straightforward estates, if the Will and the advice have not been given properly this can cause problems during the administration stage.

The Society, through its academic arm The College of Will Writing, has for the past twenty years provided training, initially all via distance learning methods, but since our relocation to Lincoln late in ’96 the College has provided residential courses, and thousands of students have passed through the ‘doors’ of the College to go on to become successful Will Writers, many now running their own companies and providing employment to a host of people who may otherwise not have had the opportunity.

Despite what people may think, it has only been the last couple of years that the College has not provided training in its own premises. In the early days after the move, we provided courses round a table in the corner of my office, which incidentally was behind a curtain.  Five years on from that we moved to larger premises at Eagle House and for the next five years provided a range of courses in our own training room seating fourteen students. The move to Newland House meant we had the use of a conference room in the building, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to forward plan courses hence why we then moved the three day Will Writing Certificate Course (Induction) to local hotels.

January saw the launch of our first dedicated building (Eclipse House) for training and seminars. It shares the same grounds as Chancery House and, rarely found these days, has ample car parking and easy access.

The students and members that have so far attended the course during January have been overwhelming in their praise for the organisation and facility; the atmosphere has been designed to be both academic and with an easy relaxed style for breaks. There is easy access being close to the main road (A46) into Lincoln, local hotels and guest houses offering a range of accommodation, and with easy access to the beautiful city of Lincoln, our offices only being a couple of miles from the city Centre. The first courses attracted members from across the country, one travelling up the day before from Cornwall.

The first one day induction/open day begins in February and already there is a high degree of interest and bookings, with one at least planned each month throughout the year.

The College has also looked at the range of courses we currently offer and how they can be improved. The three day Will Writing and Estate Planning Certificate Course has had two optional days added,  The first was the refresher course, originally designed for members/students to attend to brush up on their knowledge.  This optional day is also open to all members and having attended the three days earlier is not a bar to attending. The fourth day focuses on a greater understanding of trusts and their uses as well as looking at tax in greater depth; in effect it brings together what the students have learnt and brings estate planning to life with practical course work. The fifth day is practical will drafting, understanding software and how to get the best out of it, more work on trusts and understanding why we use them and how to use them as a drafter. The course uses the Society’s Sure Will Writer software but is applicable to any good software package.

A new estate planning course was also introduced in January, the feedback from this first outing of this course has been extremely positive. Timings are always an issue when a course is first given, and Mike Smith, the author and tutor, has taken on board the comments which have all been positive, and anyone who has attended a course given by Mike knows you can come away feeling like you’ve been ‘machine gunned’ with information flying at you. You do have to have at least some working knowledge of estate planning to get the best out of a Mike Smith course!

Following on from this course and the feedback we have had and based on our own knowledge and findings, we are looking to properly structure a training programme to ensure that by the time you attend higher workshops the student will be better prepared. More information on this programme will follow shortly.

Last week the Society was represented at a round table meeting called by the Legal Services Board of all stakeholders who represent the unregulated legal sector to begin discussions on how best self-regulation can be improved.

Education has to play a major part of better self-regulation as does education of the general public. The consumer needs to have a better understanding of the products that are being offered so that they are in a better position to make informed choices and therefore receive a better service and have fewer concerns.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sally Brown, the newly appointed CEO of the IPW, afterwards for an informal first meeting. I felt the meeting went well and we had plenty to talk about and I’m sure that through proper dialogue and communication there are areas that in the future the Society and the IPW could work closer together, and it is possible there is a case for restarting the ‘steering group’ with a proper remit and agenda.

Education has to be the key; a pride in your profession is equally as important, how you are perceived by the wider community, your professionalism is being tested every day. Complaints handling is another area that needs addressing.  The Society has recently, on two occasions, been accused of ‘not supporting the member’ when ruling on a complaint. The Society cannot support the members where they are clearly wrong. Threats of resigning form the Society will not change the findings.

Most members don’t receive complaints and, if they do, they handle them properly in-house and never get to head office. Ignoring a complaint or fighting the client does not achieve a result. If you have problems you can bring the complaint to the Society yourself for our view – we don’t always find in favour of the complainant, we are here to help. If you have a complaints procedure you need to make sure that everyone in your company is aware of it and how it works. If you don’t have one contact the office and we will help you.

Self-regulation is here for a while yet, and we need to make the best of it and the stronger and more robust we can make it the greater confidence the consumer will have in the profession but, more importantly, in you as a member of the largest organization representing the will writing profession, the Society of Will Writers.

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