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The Co-operative’s hire of three senior family lawyers as directors to kick-start its conversion to an alternative business structure (ABS) (TheLawyer. com, 2 November) could be the first of many such launches in the consumer sector.
The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) is in talks with 50 businesses about converting to an ABS, although it is not expected to receive its own licence to grant licences to those businesses until January.
“We hear from the SRA that they’re talking to a number of businesses that are keen to set up an ABS,” said Christina Blacklaws, the Co-op’s new head of strategy and policy. “The Co-operative has always been upfront about wanting to have a full complement of legal services for customers. I’m sure there are many other ABSs looking at the consumer market.”
Subject to obtaining a licence to convert to an ABS under the Legal Services Act, from the middle of 2012 Co-operative Legal Services aims to roll out a family law practice.
Blacklaws is a family partner at legal aid firm TV Edwards and formerly senior partner at Blacklaws Davis, which merged with the London firm earlier this year.
The Co-op has also hired family lawyer Jenny Beck, managing partner at TV Edwards, as head of professional practice, along with senior TV Edwards family lawyer Chris May as head of business development.
Beck and Blacklaws will remain as partners at TV Edwards until 30 June next year and stay on as consultants after that.
The Co-op’s practice will focus largely on serving low-income customers who are not eligible for legal aid.
“One of the most underserved consumer groups at the moment are those who are not eligible for legal aid but are on low incomes,” commented Blacklaws. “It’s fundamentally about access to justice. If we can do it, others can follow. We’re going to be able to employ many solicitors ultimately.”
The business is based around fixed rather than hourly fees within a range that is aimed at making services accessible to clients.
“We’ve got to have fixed prices for everything,” Blacklaws said. “There’ll not be any hourly rates. It will be fair, reasonable and accessible to many.”
Although Blacklaws expects to obtain the ABS licence by January, she said preparations would push back the full launch to next summer.
“Nobody can crystal ball-gaze about when the ABS licence will be available,” she said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be one of the first organisations to be granted an ABS licence. It would be possible to launch services [in January], but it won’t be ready then. That’s why it’s mid-2012.
“We want to cover the whole remit of family law, but the most important thing is that we do it well. We’ll make sure of that before we put anything out there. We want to ensure everything has been properly road tested.”