Thursday, 14 May 2009

Tesco Law for social welfare law?

The Legal Services Board is keen to press ahead with plans to licence the first alternative business structures (ABSs) by 2011. ABSs will allow lawyers and other professionals to work together (in perfect harmony no doubt) in providing legal and other services. The legal profession gets worried about the prospect of the 'Tesco Law' scenario, big firms using their branding and marketing clout to monopolise personal injury and other work. The Co-op has already dipped its toe in the legal services market as it provides will writing and other services to its membership.

The reality of modern life is that people are more likely to be made aware of the need to write a will, for example, by picking up information at their supermarket or increasingly their supermarket website, than they are by calling into their high street solicitor's office. Provided conflicts of interest are regulated against and the quality and independence of advice is not compromised, access to legal services should be improved by the ABS model. Also, the experience of opening the conveyancing market showed that increased competition in legal services does drive down prices, which is always one of the main barriers to access to justice.

What LAG fears though is that ABSs will just become another way of delivering legal services in the profitable areas of law which lend themselves well to a commoditised bulk processing - conveyencing (at least pre-credit crunch) and personal injury being the obvious examples. Poor people, who need legal advice on benefits, housing and other social welfare matters, are not so profitable and providing services to them might not sit so easily with a company’s image. LAG also has a sneaking fear that such businesses might not be so keen on promoting employment and other rights if this would compromise their core business.

Nevertheless ABSs do present an opportunity. It would help access to justice immensely if supermarkets and other businesses with high public recognition could act as a conduit for accessing legal advice for people facing housing, debt and other common legal problems. Perhaps it is time for some creative thinking - in the future could we see a large legal aid firm or Citizens Advice Bureau forming an ABS with Asda to provide social welfare law services paid for by legal aid?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The impact of the recession is forcing businesses to make changes to the way that they operate. The Legal profession is one of them as there has been an increase of 26% from last year in the number of law firm closures, according to statistics from the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. Competition is fierce and is set to increase when in 2010 organisations other than law firms, will be able to provide legal services under the reforms of the Legal Services Act 2007. The purpose of these reforms is to increase competition and choice for consumers.

Zara Ishaq from believes, “These changes will place more pressure on law firms to update the way they find new business and clients. Firms need to constantly adapt and embrace new ideas if they are to keep up with the competition and flourish. Some law firms are already accepting that they cannot sit at their desks waiting for clients to get in contact as in previous years, they now have to make constructive moves to get more clientele through their doors.”

It’s been claimed the new reforms will cripple law firms, Zara Comments, “This is just scare mongering, and there shouldn’t be a problem if law firms make the necessary changes so that they and the new legal services can all be part of the new legal system. However the new system has to be properly regulated with proper safeguards put in place otherwise the general public will see a reduction in the quality of the services offered.”

Zara explains new technologies and in particular the internet has provided the legal industry with fantastic marketing opportunities, “Innovation and change can be scary but if properly thought out and put into practice, it can have huge benefits for the legal profession. Solicitors need to evolve and make changes to their traditional way of working for the benefit of the consumer and to keep developing during the downturn.”

Zara’s company provides the public with an online means of searching for a specialist solicitor, drawn from a carefully selected panel of vetted practices. only partner with reputable firms with more than three years experience, who have a proven track record in their field, giving clients freedom from random selection via directories. The website reduces the time and effort required to search for a reputable solicitor, while firms are provided with a way of marketing themselves to keep up with the competition and the ailing economy. They can therefore reach a far wider audience more easily and the public can access specialists even if they aren’t local.