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The Co-operative’s legal arm Co-operative Legal Services’ (CLS) plans to roll out a new family law division in mid-2012, making it one of the few organisations to invest in high street family work.
The announcement comes as the high street giant is in talks with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) to convert to an alternative business structure (ABS).
As part of its assault on the legal market the Co-op is also planning to set up a CLS Academy, which will give students on vocational courses the chance to do work placements and get intensive training before potentially being offered training contracts. It is not yet known how many trainee vacancies will be available in 2012.
ABSs draw together the skills of a range of professionals, including lawyers, and non-law businesses such as banking, insurance and financial services.
The Co-op is taking advantage of the liberalisation of the UK legal market following the Government’s introduction of the Legal Services Act (LSA) in October. The LSA will bring the entire legal services market under a single regulatory framework.
At a time when high street work is increasingly unprofitable, the legislation allows law firms to take external investment and be owned by non-lawyers for the first time, and also means that companies can run their own legal arms.
Subject to obtaining an ABS licence, the Co-op intends to roll out its family division from mid-2012 and many believe it could have a revitalising effect on a troubled market. The family division will offer a fixed-price service to attract clients who no longer qualify for legal aid. Since 2006 CLS has increased its staff from three to 370 and provides personal injury, will-writing, probate and estate administration, conveyancing and employment services.
In November CLS hired Jenny Beck as head of professional practice, alongside two other senior family lawyers from legal aid firm TV Edwards. Christina Blacklaws has been appointed head of strategy and policy and Chris May head of business development.
May said: “Our team brings huge experience in delivering solutions to complex issues that go to the heart of people’s lives. Our approach will be to deliver these in a fair and equitable way while providing opportunities for young lawyers to develop their careers as well as being open to experienced practitioners to provide the more complex and demanding areas of work.”
These plans come at a time when students are faced with growing competition for training contracts in the private sector, with the Law Society revealing that the number of training contract places offered fell from 5,809 in 2009 to 4,784 in 2010. Most of the decline is among smaller generalist and high street practices, since City traineeships have held steady.
Earlier this year CLS took on its first legal apprentices, hiring two for a 12-month apprenticeship in business service.