The Co-Operative Group Ltd., a UK-based consumer cooperative, has announced plans to become a leading provider of legal services in England and Wales. The Group intends to vastly expand its Co-Operative Legal Services (CLS) subsidiary from its current staff of 475 to over 3,000, and will begin offering legal services to the general public for the first time. CLS previously provided legal services only to Co-Operative Group members.
CLS is taking advantage of new regulations in the UK that enable non-lawyers to own or invest in law firms. The new rules have the potential to fundamentally change the way many in the UK obtain legal services, and The Co-Operative Group’s announcement represents a major step in the evolution of the UK legal market. As Co-Operative Group chief executive Peter Marks told the Financial Times, “Over the next five years we want to fundamentally change the face of legal services and make access far easier.”
The FT reports that in addition to substantially increasing its staff, CLS will also expand geographically. The group, currently based in Bristol, will add five new regional hubs as well as a London-based family law operation.
CLS joins other companies on the vanguard, including Accutrainee, a company we wrote about last fall (then known as Acculaw) that offers a new outsourcing model for lawyer recruitment and training. CLS, for its part, plans to train many of its new service providers in-house. According to a report in The Lawyer:
CLS currently has four first-year trainees out of a staff of 475, with over fifty further employees who have completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) awaiting training contracts.
At a press briefing on the plans, managing director Eddie Ryan confirmed that CLS has recently applied to the SRA to offer a further ten training contracts to current employees and that within five years it hopes to take on 100 trainees a year.
CLS and Accutrainee are likely just the beginning of innovation in the UK legal market. Under the new regulatory scheme, we are likely to see more experimentation, from both established legal service providers and new market entrants.
Posted by Emily Fisher