"Big Bang" or "Little Whimper" - changes for the legal profession

06/May/2011
Guest Blogger

Over the next few years the way legal services are offered and provided will change dramatically, thanks to the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA) which comes into full force in October this year.

One of the main aims of the LSA is to allow new forms of legal practices to develop –
•    Legal Disciplinary Practices (LDPs), firms involving different kinds of lawyers, and up to 25% non-lawyers, and
•    Alternative Business Structures (ABSs), which will allow the external ownership of legal businesses (so called “Tesco Law”).

Some are already describing the changes due this October i as a “Big Bang” for the legal profession, with some industry experts predicting that as many as 3,000 high street law firms (35%) may disappear over the course of the next few years.  This is sure to have implications for energy assessors, surveyors and estate agents – but what might those implications be?

The name “Tesco Law” is at the moment misleading.  Although Tesco are currently involved in property selling ,they have not, to the best of my knowledge, openly revealed that they will become involved in providing legal services. That is not to say they won’t of course.

The correct name should probably be “Co-op Law”.  The Co-op have been providing funeral and probate services for a while and they also outsource conveyancing.  The Co-op currently employ about 55 qualified solicitors, 40 legal executives and a number of paralegals. Two other well know brands that are likely to enter the legal market place are rumoured to be AA and SAGA.

But back to The Co-op. I met their Legal Services, Sales and Marketing Director Jonathan Gulliford, earlier this year, just a short while after he spoke at a Law Society conference. At that conference he made it quite clear that The Co-op would be expanding their legal services offering and that the service they provided would be both professional and , importantly, client focused. Mr Gulliford made it quite clear that in his opinion, many High Street solicitor firms lacked basic “soft skills.”  (A googled definition of some soft skills includes, optimism, common sense, a sense of humour, empathy, communication and sociability!) How The Co-op decides to expand is, as far as I am aware, yet to be decided but could be by way of one or all of the following; acquisition, employment, partnering, franchising or joint ventures.

This is one of those situations where the phrase “it is ours to loose” springs to mind. Solicitors, pretty much, currently have control of the legal services market place; any new competitors have to encroach on to it.

How will the independent high street solicitor survive and grow? It is not rocket science and  amongst other things, solicitors will need to:

•    Market themselves effectively
•    Make sure they and their staff are welcoming and approachable
•    Protect the client databases they have
•    Communicate often and effectively
•    Address costs and offer added value
•    Possibly commoditise certain services and employ greater use of IT

I believe that for any business minded and forward thinking solicitor firm, the LSA offers more opportunities than potential threats.. Forward, lateral thinking and pro-active firms will survive, others will not.

And how will this impact on energy assessors and surveyors?  Quite honestly, it is difficult to know at this stage, particularly in the light of the other imminent changes, such as Green Deal.  It might be a case of just ‘watch this space’.  I would suggest, at the very least, keeping an eye on some of the bigger players to see what announcements might be forthcoming over the next few months.  Some might even want to explore potential opportunities for more work and new business relationships with new players in the market place.

But of one thing, I am certain.  Once the dust has settled, the selection of legal services providers will grow and, like many high streets now, the consumer  will be able to choose from bigger brand names, like Tesco, or the well established, well run, professional, friendly and modern independent shop.

 

This is a guest blog written by Rob Hailstone, Founder of The Bold Group.  Rob can be contacted on 07817 630714 or follow him on Twitte r@RobcHailstone

The views expressed in this blog article are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of National Energy Services.  When submitting a comment, please be aware of the guidelines provided in our website terms and conditions.

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