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Firm calls in Freeserve founder

Yorkshire solicitors stake future on internet service and ABS

25 July 2011

Last Cawthra Feather (LCF), a Yorkshire law firm with 13 partners and around 80 staff, has called in Ajaz Ahmed, a co-founder of Freeserve, to set up an online legal service and ABS., launched last week, offers a range of fixed-price services in the areas of divorce, wills and property, but not conveyancing. Customers have a choice between ‘DIY documents’ and ‘lawyer reviewed’ documents.

The aim is to follow this with the opening of a LEGAL365 retail store in Leeds and the creation of an ABS this autumn.

Simon Stell, managing partner of LCF, told Solicitors Journal that the website had been tested for several months but it had only just started being promoted.

“We will shortly be announcing partnerships with other businesses who will be offering our services to their customer bases,” he said.

“We have a dedicated team within LCF working on LEGAL365 managing the operation and doing the legal reviews. As business grows we will recruit.”

Stell said the initial shareholders of the proposed ABS would comprise LCF and Ajaz Ahmed.

He added that the ABS would consider both outside investment and joint ventures with other businesses.

Ahmed said the firm had approached him at a dinner last year and explained that they were keen to start a new service on the web.

“When I heard about Tesco law, it became clear to me that this was a much bigger opportunity than many people think,” Ahmed said.

“Many of the lawyers I spoke to appeared to have their heads stuck in the sand. They’ve never had an incentive to change and they’ve never needed to change. It’s a protected industry. There’s never been much in the way of competition.

“A small number of lawyers understand that there will be change and it will be inevitable, but they do not know what to do. They have never been trained in marketing or retailing.”

Ahmed said he had been to Lewisham shopping centre to pay a ‘mystery shopping’ visit to the QualitySolicitors store.

QS will launch its WHSmith legal access points next week at Westfield shopping centre in west London, with the help of its resident celebrity, Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden.

QualitySolicitors has said it is planning to set up 130 access points in the first wave, where QS staff will be able to book appointments, give conveyancing quotes and sell will packages.

“I do not think QualitySolicitors has got it right,” Ahmed said. “It’s a step in the right direction but more a branding exercise than a revolution.”

He said the stalls QS is set to open in WHSmith next month would put customers through to offices rather than allow transactions to be completed “there and then”.

In a separate development, Andy Slaughter, shadow justice minister, warned last week that ABS day could be postponed from October this year until early in 2012.

Slaughter said he was not sure how “far down the road” ABS day was, but businesses would discover that it would be “perhaps not this autumn” when parliament approved the necessary order.

Solicitors Journal reported last week that the SRA was pressing the Ministry of Justice for an implementation date for ABS, following indications from the LSB that the original date of 6 October 2011 might have to be delayed.

The regulator also said it had “made it clear” that it must be able to consider any spent criminal convictions of ABS owners and that parliament would need to pass a separate order to allow this.

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