May 24, 2012 1:25 pm

Co-op plans 3,000 jobs for legal unit

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The Co-operative Group plans to hire 3,000 people for its law business as it aims to become the largest provider of consumer legal services in the UK within five years.

The mutual is in the vanguard of market deregulation, which from October ended restrictions on non-lawyers investing in or running legal practices.

Peter Marks, chief executive, said the brand was trusted and already ran banks, pharmacies and funeral parlours, which were also heavily regulated businesses requiring trust from the consumer.

The Co-op has long offered legal services to its 7m members but is now selling to the public across England and Wales. The Legal Services Act, which allows alternative business structures, does not apply in Scotland.

The Co-op, which has a turnover of £13bn, is among six such structures seeking to grab a share of a market worth about £8.2bn annually. More than 100 other businesses have applied to join them.

Mr Marks said: “Over the next five years we want to fundamentally change the face of legal services and make access far easier.”

Mr Marks said Co-operative Legal Services, which operates out of Bristol and employs about 450 legally trained and support staff, would open five additional regional hubs and set up a family law operation in London.

Basic advice will be available through all 330 branches of the Co-operative Bank and Britannia, the former building society it owns.

About 90 per cent of the jobs will be for qualified lawyers and paralegals and the Co-op is looking to train apprentices. Many law firms, squeezed by the recession, have cut back on training and recruitment.

Co-operative Legal Services deals with personal injury claims, family law and employment law, as well as probate and estate administration, will writing and conveyancing. Advice is available over the telephone, online or face to face, at a fixed price.

Mr Marks said: “People are nervous about where to get advice. They are frightened of making a phone call because in their mind a clock starts ticking and they would get an invoice that is growing all the time they are speaking to solicitors.”

Some law firms have responded to such fears by offering fixed tariffs rather than hourly or project rates. LawVest, a holding company part-owned by DLA Piper, has established Riverview Law, grouping a barristers’ chambers and solicitors.

A recent study found that almost a third of the UK’s top 40 law firms were considering joining forces with a non-legal practice in the next two years to access funding or offer new services.

The reform has been dubbed “Tesco law”, but there is no sign of the retailer entering the sector.

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