High noon on the high street

Cheap and cheerful brands threaten hourly billing model

high street shopping
high street shopping

Former Clyde & Co COO David Jabbari may claim there is no direct market rival to his new firm Pannone’s referral network Connect2Law, but as his role is to build that network of 2,600 member firms into the UK’s leading legal brand he must surely take into account other movers in this area.

The high street is becoming rather crowded – and we’re not talking Christmas shopping. This time last year QualitySolicitors chief executive Craig Holt announced plans to have 1,000 branches, covering every population centre in the country. Since then several new entrants to the legal services market have taken advantage of structural changes and customer demand to muscle into the space.

The model is based on recognition – shoving law in the face of the public with fixed fees, trusted branding and common service delivery standards. Just take a look at Irwin Mitchell’s personal injury ads or peruse the aisles of WH Smith if you want proof.

In February LawVest launched its direct access, 43-barrister legal services entity Riverview Law. Although aimed at companies and business clients the DLA Piper-part-owned fixed-fee model was an early mover, with its structure based on annual contracts and “transparency”.

Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) also created a roster of barristers’ chambers this year that it will use for family work after launching a fixed-fee family law operation with 22 solicitors for divorce, child protection, mediation and financial issues.

This followed the Co-op’s big consumer brand push into the legal profession, aimed at creating 3,000 jobs in 30 branches.

The Co-op approach to high street legal services has been well-documented because of its significance in brand terms. The retail giant trades on its ethical reputation – a phrase not normally associated in consumers’ minds with the law.

If the Co-op’s plan for five regional hubs populated with young, hungry and ambitious lawyers working from a customer charter of detailed itemised quotes, no jargon or nasty surprises and fixed fees comes off, many believe the traditional model of hourly billing will be all but over outside the top echelons.

Another presence for Jabbari to at least take a sideways glance at is Local Law. A legal franchise that invites high street practitioners to market their services in corner shops, Local Law’s start-up plans include 50 firms paying an annual fee of £66,900 plus VAT.

Expensive? Perhaps, but Local Law says its ambitious plan compares favourably with an average referral fee per case of around £800.

Different models, but the same purpose: consolidation and innovation with the intention of becoming the pre-eminent consumer brand for legal services.

Since Irwin Mitchell and Parabis gained approval for more complex alternative business structures (ABSs) a log-jam appears to have cleared and SRA notifications are now feeding through at a steady rate. Although Thompsons Solicitors – last week’s approval – seems to have more modest ambitions in simply wanting to be able to reward non-LLP members, the coming months will put Jabbari’s aims and claims to the test in a challenging market.