Supermarket customers will soon be able to put 'legal advice' on their shopping lists, as the Law Society has agreed to let businesses provide legal services directly to the public
In a landmark Law Society meeting last Thursday (21 March), Council members voted nearly unanimously for this ultimate aim. The society is on the verge of talks with the Government and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) about the legislation that the development will necessitate. But another sweeping change proposed at the meeting, which could have altered the nature of law firm partnerships altogether, was rejected. This was the revolutionary proposal that would allow solicitors to share fees with non-lawyers and to sell off parts of their equity to raise debt. Interestingly, votes were close on this issue at 43 to 30, showing that the idea does seem plausible to many solicitors. Several companies in the insurance and financial services sectors are already examining how they will provide their customers with legal advice. Law firms are also in consultation with their clients about forming joint ventures so they can provide legal advice to the clients' customers. Law Society Council member and in-house lawyer Paul Gilbert explained: "Law firms will be and are interested in formal alliances with clients. There's a significant cross-section of firms that are interested, from very large to very small, City to provincial. "What's likely to happen is that law firms will want to know if they can access their clients' businesses and provide services to the clients' customers as part of the business of the client." Ed Nally, chair of the working party that put the motions forward, was also voted in as deputy vice-president of the Law Society. This means that he is in line to become the president, as now only deputy vice-presidents can be voted in by Law Society members. It is understood that Nally is likely to lead the society's talks with the Government and the OFT on the new legislation to bring these developments about.