Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) has announced that it will be applying for an ABS licence to offer fixed-price family law services and recruiting “large numbers of solicitors”.
The new service will be headed by Christina Blacklaws, partner at TV Edwards and chair of the Law Society’s legal affairs and policy board, who became a director of CLS last week.
She said CLS intended to create a fixed-price family law service, providing both online and face-to-face advice, and aiming particularly at clients earning from £15,000 to £40,000 pa.
Once the service is launched next year, she said the Co-op would be recruiting “large numbers of solicitors”.
Blacklaws said nothing would happen until CLS was licensed as an ABS by the SRA, which could come as soon as January. She said the earliest launch date for the new service would be the middle of next year.
“We have the opportunity to create from a blank piece of paper a new way of delivering family law services,” she said.
“The Co-op is a trusted brand already and significant provider of other financial and professional services.”
Nigel Shepherd, partner at Mills & Reeve, said the Co-op’s announcement meant the everyone in the market would have to “up their game”.
He went on: “This is obviously a very significant development in the market. It is a further example of how new services are going to influence how everybody looks at what they provide.”
Shepherd said Co-op’s target market was the “squeezed middle-classes”, the kind of people hardest hit by higher legal fees and the erosion of legal aid eligibility.
He said Mills & Reeve was piloting fixed-fee services, along with other family law firms. Where a single fee was not possible, such as for financial proceedings on divorce, he said clients would be offered a range of prices for different stages.
“We know that, with ABS coming, people are lining up to enter the market. It will lead to a serious change in the way we offer services and a change that is needed.”
Jenny Beck, managing partner of TV Edwards, will become head of professional practice at the CLS family law unit while Chris May, head of business development and strategy at TV Edwards, will be in charge of operations.
Blacklaws said she and Beck would remain partners at TV Edwards until 30 June 2012, when they would become consultants. Meanwhile, the three-strong management team of the CLS family unit will be spending some of its time at a Co-op building in the City.
CLS currently employs more than 400 staff, offering personal injury, will-writing, probate and estate administration, conveyancing and employment services. Its aim is to become the preferred provider of consumer legal services in the UK.