In the Media

Co-op targets family legal aid – with loyalty points

PUBLISHED May 24, 2012

Thursday 24 May 2012

Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) has a family legal aid contract and is already working on cases, ahead of the launch of its family law service in July, it revealed today.

The news followed the announcement of the mutual's plans to recruit 3,000 staff and expand its legal services into all 330 of its high street branches, as part of its drive into the £8-10bn consumer legal services market.

CLS managing director Eddie Ryan told a press briefing that the family service, headed by Christina Blacklaws, obtained a legal aid licence in April and is already working on cases.

He said the service, which will offer fixed-price services, is receiving around 10 calls a day. The London office will be one of five regional 'hubs' CLS plans to open over the next five years, from where it will deliver its services.

Ryan said that the lawyer to paralegal/support staff ratio of the current 475 CLS employees is about 50:50, and he expected a greater proportion of the 3,000 new staff to be qualified lawyers - either solicitors or legal executives.

He suggested the ration would be higher for the family service than the other more commoditised areas of work.

Ryan added that CLS does not plan to recruit barristers, although it does instruct the self-employed bar to do representation work.

Ryan said that CLS, which already provides outsourced conveyancing services, also plans to set up an in-house conveyancing section. It has no intention to offer criminal services.

Clients using any of the legal services will be entitled to Co-op loyalty points, entitling them to a twice-yearly dividend.

CLS has offered legal services to its members since 2006 and the Co-operative Group has provided other services, such as funerals and banking, for years. Expansion into legal services, Waytes said is a natural extension of its other professional services.

'We've been a hybrid alternative business structure for some time. Now with out ABS licence we can offer our services to the whole public. It shouldn't be seen as revolutionary but evolutionary - it's a natural strategic progression,' he said.

Waytes said: 'If we're honest, consumer legal advice is delivered by local solicitors - some are great, but not all are equally good. For something as fundamental as access to justice that can't be right. Access to justice is a fundamental human right. Everyone should be entitled to equal access to great quality legal advice.'

He questioned whether franchise models would be able to offer an efficient and consistent service.

Waytes added: 'Some people are entering the market with venture capitalists - they see it as a gold-rush and huge opportunity to go "ching ching".'

Ryan acknowledged that many lawyers were fearful about CLS's plans. He said it is already winning business from large practices. 'Every solicitor practice is the competition,' he said, adding: 'Good lawyers will continue to exist. Poor lawyers will go out of business and that's the market share we'll be grabbing.'