Co-op plans to dominate English high-street law

28 May 2012

The Co-operative Group has announced plans to build the biggest consumer law business in England & Wales within five years, with will writing, probate and estate administration a big part of its target market.

The coming into force of England’s Legal Services Act (LSA) earlier this year signalled the likely entry of large commercial retailers into the consumer legal services sector. (This is sometimes called ‘Tesco Law’, though Tesco has not shown much interest in it yet.) The Co-op, which has for some time been offering limited legal services, was one of the first such firms to apply successfully for the necessary alternative business structure (ABS) licence, and at the time announced plans to expand. Co-operative Legal Services is already one of the country’s 100 biggest law firms, and a big employer of Chartered Legal Executives with 450 employees.

Now, however, it says its current limited trial of consumer legal services at 30 of its high-street bank branches will be expanded to all 330 branches, which include those still under the Britannia brand name. These will be administered from five regional hubs, and a family-law business will also be launched in London this year, to be headed by senior lawyers from Solicitors TV Edwards.

The expansion will create 3,000 new jobs, of which 90 per cent will be fee-earning legal staff. It hopes to recruit through legal apprenticeships and opportunities for study leave.

The Co-op group’s Chief Executive, Peter Marks, said its selling points would be its ‘trusted brand and values, UK-wide branch network, first-class people and services, together with fair and fixed pricing options’. The latter is a significant pointer to the price war likely to overwhelm high-street law firms soon. Recent research by the Legal Services Board (LSB) showed that customers who were charged fixed fees usually came off best, and the Legal Ombudsman has criticised the profession for sticking to hourly rates rather than fixed fees.

To save costs, services will be provided through either a telephone service or the Internet, with face-to-face service being limited to selected cases. As well as will writing, probate and estate administration, the business will take on conveyancing, personal injury claims, family law and employment law. Cross-selling from existing businesses such as insurance, healthcare, financial and funeral services is also likely to be a strong feature of the Co-op’s marketing plan.



Co-operative Group

BBC News



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