Co-op becomes first major brand to offer range of legal services previously only available through private solicitors
The Co-operative is planning to hire nearly 3,000 lawyers over the next five years in a rapid expansion programme that will challenge the profitability of traditional high street solicitors.
Consumer legal services will be introduced into the Co-op’s national network of 330 banks, and five additional regional hubs will be opened to provide advice to callers.
The growth has been facilitated by the Legal Services Act. In March, the Co-operative became the first major consumer brand to be granted alternative business structure (ABS) status under the law, allowing it to offer a range of legal services to the public that were previously only available through private solicitors.
The organisation, which already runs supermarkets, banks, funeral services and pharmacies, believes its reasonable rates as well as ethical and socially responsible values will attract large numbers of customers who are deterred from approaching more expensive, traditional law firms.
Co-operative Legal Services already operates out of Bristol, employing around 450 staff. Last year it hired Jenny Beck, the managing partner at the leading legal aid firm TV Edwards, and two colleagues to set up the organisation’s family law division.
“This is a terrific opportunity to revolutionise the way legal services are delivered throughout the country and to [increase] access to justice,” said Martyn Wates, the deputy chief executive of the Co-op Group. “This is an opportunity to deliver a great service consistently up and down the country.”
The organisation will provide free initial telephone advice and them offer set rates per case rather than charging by the hour. Among the services it plans to offer are pre-nuptial agreements for cohabitees.
“We are finding that young lawyers are not willing to pursue the partner route and prefer to have a good work/life balance,” explained Eddie Ryan, the managing director of Co-operative Legal Services. “We are receiving applications from law firms who want to work with us.
“Our rates for customers will be much cheaper than those charged by high street solicitors. We are hoping to mitigate the impact of the recent legal aid cuts by providing services at a reasonable cost.”
Around 90% of the 3,000 new Co-op legal services jobs will be for those who are legally qualified, with the remaining 10% fulfilling support roles.
This week the trucking conglomerate Eddie Stobart also announced it was entering the legal services market by establishing Stobart Barristers, which will cut costs by connecting clients directly to specialists at the Bar, cutting out any solicitors.
Trevor Howarth, Stobart Barristers managing director, said: “This is a new market