WITH their hourly rates and billing targets, law firms are not generally prone to giving their advice away for free.

If McClure Solicitors is anything to go by, perhaps more should think about giving it a go, though.

For after more than 100 years trundling along as a sleepy Inverclyde high street firm, the business has been transformed into a £4 million turnover UK player thanks to a decision to never charge for writing wills.

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“What we did between 1853 and 1984 was just the same as any other high street firm,” said McClure managing director Andrew Robertson.

“We did conveyancing, court work, executory, a bit of commercial work and wills if folk wanted them.

“The business model was you come for a legal service and if you’re lucky we’ll offer you a will at the back end and if you’re really lucky we’ll do that for free. We did that until 1984 and then Band Aid came along.”

Inspired by the success of the music industry initiative, which raised millions of pounds for famine relief work in Ethiopia, Oban solicitor Graham Pagan launched Will Aid four years later.

Initially based only in Scotland, the charity quickly expanded into the rest of the UK, with solicitors who signed up writing wills for free every November so long as clients made a donation to charities such as ActionAid and Save the Children in return.

The difference at McClure was that, rather than offering the free service for just one month a year, it decided to build its entire model around the concept, writing wills for free all year round.

“We’d moved into a corner shop unit in Greenock so we had passing footfall but people kept on passing,” Mr Robertson said.

“I thought the will scheme would be a good way to get people to come in. I thought if they came in they would take some of our other services such as council house purchasing, which had just come in then.

“We went ahead and have never looked back. Our pitch to the market was come to us and a will will be free but we suggest that you make a donation, at that time it was for the Ardgowan Hospice in Greenock.”

The gamble has paid off for the firm, with just under half of those who come in for a free will going on to pay McClure to write a power of attorney for them while 10 per cent take out a lifetime trust. The firm also does estate agency and conveyancing work, with most of the clients using those services being introduced to the firm via its wills offering.

The gamble has also paid off for the charities McClure’s clients choose to support, with the firm raising £24 million in donations, Gift Aid and legacy pledges in the first nine months of this year alone, with the total for the year expected to hit the £32m mark.

If the sums seem vast for a firm operating from a Greenock street corner that is because the model proved so successful the firm quickly expanded into Glasgow followed by Aberdeen and Edinburgh, with the firm more recently launching bases across England as well as one in Wales.

“We think we’re innovative but we’re also slow learners – we did the free wills service for a long time before we realised it was a good business that could be expanded,” Mr Robertson said.

The firm’s initial expansion south of the Border came about after Dunfermline Building Society, whose wills clients it wrote lifetime trusts for, was taken over by Nationwide, with the McClure’s partners qualifying in England and Wales in order to service the needs of the expanded client base.

With the firm partnering numerous high-profile charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support, though, its more recent expansion has come at the behest of other organisations that are interested in its model and how they can benefit from it.

“A new charity will be big for us in Oxford so we need to open an office there and our launch in Cardiff was charity-driven too,” Mr Robertson said.

The firm now has 100 people working across 13 offices and, while every client who comes to the firm gets a will that is personalised to their particular circumstances, what the firm has built is, essentially, a high-volume business, meaning the potential to scale it up is huge.

As Mr Robertson said: “We do about 400 appointments a month for free wills but there are about 25 million people in the UK who need what we provide.”