Monday 13 May 2013 by Michael Cross

The Co-operative Group's legal services arm is to set up a 'learning academy' later this year to give legal training to aspiring lawyers who cannot afford university.

Christina Blacklaws, director of Co-operative Legal Services, revealed the plan on Saturday - two days after the resignation of the Co-operative Banking Group's chief executive following the downgrading of the bank's credit rating to 'junk' status.

Blacklaws (pictured) told the Law Society's annual presidents and secretaries conference that the Co-op, which she described as the largest provider of family legal services 'by a country mile', is preparing new services to fill the gaps left by legal aid cuts.

These include:

  • 'A full range' of unbundled services for people who cannot afford to retain a lawyer.
  • 'A raft' of free online advice offerings, including 'how-to' guides on YouTube.

Blacklaws said that legal aid reforms would push 200,000 people a year out of the scope of aid. 'There is a serious question of whether they will be able to afford any legal advice in the future. At the Co-op we want to be part of the solution to that.'

Answering questions, Blacklaws revealed that the Co-op is planning to set up a 'learning academy' in September 'to address problems of social mobility' in legal education. She said that the academy would enable people who cannot afford conventional higher education to be trained and developed.

The Co-operative Group's overall strategy is surrounded by uncertainty this week following the announcement that it is reviewing all parts of its business to fill what analysts said is a £1bn capital hole in the Co-op Bank's business. On present performance, a disposal of the legal services arm would do little to fill that hole.

Following heavy start-up costs, Co-operative Legal Services achieved little more than break-even last year, generating a pre-tax profit of £26,000 on a turnover of £33m.

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