QualitySolicitors is to run ‘legal access points’ in 150 WHSmith stores on the high street and railway stations from this summer, opening up a new front in its battle to build a strong presence in the high street.
The move came as the SRA published its latest solicitors’ handbook, promising a set of modern principles applicable to all entities in the legal services sector come ABS day on 6 October, including tougher requirements for new entrants.
The QS access points will be run by local QS firms but no legal advice will be delivered there.
Saleem Asif, chief operating officer at QS, said “law students or other confident people with an awareness of legal services” would collect shoppers’ details to pass on to firms.
However, Asif said at this stage it could be useful for the lawyers themselves to take part in some of the initiatives so they could get an understanding of clients’ responses.
A one-week trial with two local QS firms – Burroughs Day in Bristol and Oliver and Co in Chester – resulted in 50 people a day signing up to QS’s new ‘Privilege’ card and between five and ten active leads – individuals with a live legal issue.
The non-active leads who signed up to the Privilege card were also offered a free legal health check with the local QS firm. The card will work like a loyalty card, where owners would be regularly offered special deals every month.
It will also help push the message that legal services need not be complicated and that many transactions are charged at a flat rate.
Fixed fees have been gaining traction with traditional firms keen on remaining attractive but Asif said QS had the marketing power to make it known more widely and effectively.
The cost of the operation – on average £500 a day per store – will be 80 to 90 per cent funded by QS centrally, but Asif said in due course the new scheme would replace other lead generation mechanisms, such as referral fees.
While he said there were no set targets at the moment, the expectation was that the access points would create an amount of lead generation such that “there will be no need to buys leads anymore”.
The deal with WHSmith is exclusive for five years, meaning no other legal brand can enter into a similar arrangement with the high street stationer.
QS is also considering an additional agreement with WHSmith to open access points in its large stores located in retail centres and out of town shopping malls such as Lakeside. This is likely to be entirely financed from central QS funds.
Asif added QS aimed to sign up 300 firms by October. From July, all QS firms will also open on Saturdays.
Meanwhile, SRA chief executive Anthony Townsend said some “ABS-specific changes” had been made to the new solicitors’ handbook, published last week.
“We’ve tightened up authorisation rules, in particular in relation to ABSs, such as the rules on ownership and fitness to own, which will include much more stringent international identity checks,” he said.
Townsend also pointed out the handbook gave the SRA new powers to call for business plans to test the viability of a new entrant.
The new entry rules will cover not only brand new organisations but also the 337 LDP firms currently with non-lawyer partners that will have to convert to ABS within 12 months of 6 October.
In a separate development, BBC dragons Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden have teamed up with RBS and Natwest to launch a legal services package aimed at small and medium-sized businesses, working with document-assembly business Epoq.
The new service is an additional feature to Paphitis and Meaden’s Smarta business, founded three years ago, which offers a range of services, from website building to bookkeeping, marketed under the name of Smarta Business Builder.
Law firm Mishcon de Reya, which had been advising the founders, also has a small share in the business.
Two modules are available, a basic service for a £20 monthly subscription and a £30 service which include access to a legal helpline and other non-legal services. Both will be sold via RBS and NatWest – although not exclusively.
Unlike other similar services, such as the one run by the AA and Saga, where Epoq also built the legal document-assembly back end, Smarta’s legal helpline will be limited to providing general information about the types of documents required in certain types of situations. It will not at this stage provide access to a lawyer for document review purposes.
Nick Davis, head of corporate at Mishcon, said the work the firm had done with Smarta had ignited existing interest in the SME market.
He said Mishcon was also looking at offering a basic bundle of legal services for start-ups, possibly for a few thousand pounds, to help small businesses get off the ground.
“We’re expecting a lot more people will become entrepreneurs on the back of the recession and this market should be growing,” he said.