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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Leading online divorce service buys law firm

Leading online divorce service buys law firm


Acquisition will increase reputational profile and keep profits in-house

Online Legal Services, the company behind, has finalised the acquisition of family specialist law firm Peter Thomas Law Limited.

The firm was granted an alternative business structure licence on 6 November 2016, effective from 13 October 2016, paving the way for its acquisition by OLS in March this year (2017), a process which was finalised on Friday (2 June 2017).

OLS is one of the largest single providers of uncontested divorce services in the UK, turning over £1.2m. Founder Mark Keenan told Solicitors Journal the aim was to grow revenue to between £3m and £5m in the next few years, a figure that would place OLS on a par with some of the larger mid-market regional firms.

Divorce-Online had been working with Peter Thomas Law for several years, referring complex or disputed cases to the South Wales firm, which will shortly be renamed OLS Solicitors.

One benefit of the acquisition will be reputational, but Keenan said it also made sense to keep the profits of the outsourced work in-house.

'We have been working with the law firm for a number of years and it made sense for us to acquire our own firm to pass the work to. Our websites are well placed to refer more complex cases to the law firm where there is over 20 years of experience in a range of family law problems,' the former legal executive said.

'We've become one of the largest traffic website for organic results in the UK, with thousands of pages of content that, until now, we've not been able to service because it's too complex or contested. Now we can refer that work in-house,' he added.

Although the merged entities will be moving to new premises in Swindon, the two brands will remain separate for the time being. However, the law firm side of the business will also adopt some of the approaches and working practices of its online owner, with IT and marketing becoming shared resources.

The firm will move to fixed fees wherever possible, and clients will be able to track the progress of the case online. There will also be greater use of Skype meetings and communication via WhatsApp.

'In five years' time our clients will be the generation where they don't even own a land line, and everything is done on their mobile device and our customer service needs to match how they communicate,' Keenan commented.

Another area where the law firm is expected to benefit is financial. Divorce-Online is a cash-rich business: clients pay the whole fee upfront by credit card. Not so with the law firm side, which, like most firms, carries work-in-progress liabilities. OLS will be looking at bringing some of its expertise in this regard into the law firm, according to Keenan.

Recruiting more fee earners will be key to achieving the new business's growth objectives. Following the acquisition, OLS will go from 15 to 22 staff. Keenan says there should be between 30 and 35 in the next few years.

Keenan said the business would be looking at hiring a mixture of solicitors and legal executives who can fit in the company's agile working ethos. 'We're looking for fee earners who can work flexibly and use the internet, but also for people in the Swindon area who have some experience and are looking to develop their career,' Keenan said.

Keeping ahead in terms of technological expertise will also be essential. The IT and business development teams will be growing too, starting with the recruitment of a digital marketing apprentice in the next few months.

Following the acquisition Keenan has been appointed joint managing director of OLS and of OLS Solicitors. Peter Thomas has been appointed COLP and COFA of the new entity, and Julian Nash will see his current finance director position at OLS extended to OLS Solicitors.

Jean-Yves Gilg is editor-in-chief of Solicitors Journal | @jeanyvesgilg