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Divorce clients will earn points from the Co-op

Clients who get divorce advice from the Co-op will earn points when its new family service opens in July, the UKs largest mutual has confirmed.

24 May 2012

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The new service is part of plans by Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) to expand from 475 to 3,000 staff over five years.

Martyn Wates, deputy chief executive of the Co-op, told a press briefing this lunchtime that divorce customers would earn points in the same way as those who bought insurance and banking services.

He said clients would come to the CLS family service because it provided services such as mediation and prenups at “good, cheap prices” and “prenups are not just for millionaires”.

Eddie Ryan, managing director of CLS, said the family service had already taken on its first clients and submitted its first bill. Without any promotion, he said it was receiving ten inquiries a day.

Ryan said the service, headed by Christina Blacklaws, had a legal aid contract and 30-40 publicly funded cases. He said the Co-op wanted to provide a service both for those who would fall outside the legal aid scheme as a result of the LASPO Act next year and those who were already not eligible.

Wates said the Co-op would consider providing legal aid in other areas of law.

“As and when we can provide legally aided services, we will.”

He went on: “Everybody should be entitled to good-quality advice. Our aim is to ensure that everybody gets consistently great service at a great price. We should never be ashamed of that.”

Wates said the Co-op was expanding its legal services because it was the right thing to do.

“A lot of people see this as a gold rush,” he said. “We’re doing it to improve legal services in this country.”

He questioned whether the franchise model, such as the one adopted by QualitySolicitors, could make the necessary economies of scale or deliver a consistent service.

Ryan said becoming an ABS had allowed the Co-op to provide services not only for its members, but for the whole market.

“The prize we’re after is the £8-10bn marketplace for consumer services,” he said.

“Good lawyers will continue to exist, but poor lawyers will go out of business. That is the market share we’ll be grabbing.”

Ryan went on: “A lot of people are afraid of us coming into the market. They see us as a major threat, and we are.”

He added that around half the 475 staff who currently worked for CLS had a legal qualification. Of these, just over 100 were solicitors, Ryan said, with around 60 legal executives and 35 to 40 paralegals with a law degree or LPC.

He said that when CLS expanded, first into London and then into four regional hubs to cover the whole country, he expected the proportion of qualified staff to grow slightly.

“Family law will need a greater proportion than the more commoditised services,” Ryan said.

He would not be drawn on whether CLS would expand its conveyancing service by acquisition or internal growth, but predicted a major announcement within three to four months.