After years of talking about it, the Legal Services Act is upon us. Officially, it comes into force in October this year and will allow more organisations to offer legal services, something which they have not been able to do to date.
It has been dubbed “Tesco law” by certain commentators convinced we will see a rush by supermarkets wanting to sell all sorts of additional services to unsuspecting shoppers. From home conveyancing to divorce, in the same way you can now pick up leaflets for pet insurance and car breakdown cover as you queue to pay for your bananas and tins of beans.
Ironic then that the first sight of the Tesco law on the high street is with the announcement from Co-op that it will be offering free legal advice over the next two weeks at three of its Bristol banks. The pilot scheme from the Co-operative is seen as a toe in the water to test the public appetite for more accessible legal advice. There is also a claim from the mutual’s MD Eddie Ryan that because the Co-op brand is known and trusted, people might be more inclined to go there than firms with solicitors who “communicate with them poorly, use jargon that is confusing and don’t understand how services are priced”. And you know what, I agree with him – to a point.
There have been cries of foul play from some quarters of the legal sector over the Legal Services Act, as I have highlighted before. They fear it will spell the end of hundreds of high street firms and it may well be difficult for general firms offering poor customer service and unfathomable pricing to compete. But I say this competition is good. It should drive firms on to better customer service, transparent pricing and offer real high quality advice in specialist areas. Specialism is the way forward.
Woolley & Co was founded in 1996 and operates as a specialist family law firm, using plain English, transparent pricing and a service geared towards the customer rather than the solicitor. By having a website as a shop window for our services and free information and advice, we made ourselves more accessible than many law firms. Fifteen years on and I am ready for these changes, provided the advice being offered by the high street names is of adequate quality offered by experienced legal advisers, but that’s another debate. At the end of the day, if I am doing my job properly as a specialist family lawyer, with a business model that has cut out a lot of the unnecessary cost of high street offices, I am confident I will still be here, competing, in another 15 years time, no matter what Tesco or the Co-op is selling. However, I am not sure that the majority of colleagues in this profession could be as confident of this.