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Tesco Law brings a major shift for legal services

The landscape for the provision of legal services will see a seismic shift in 2012 with many Shropshire lawyers left wondering whether the beneficiaries will be the public or big business.

New laws came into force at the start of this year (JAN 3, 2012) which allow non-lawyers to own all or part of businesses offering legal services and for those businesses to offer more wide-ranging mixes of services than has previously been possible for traditional law firms. Many companies, both large and small, are gearing up to enter a market that previously was restricted only to qualified and carefully accredited lawyers.

Such a radical change to a system that reaches back to the earliest days of legal practice in this country is causing partners in established law firms to question whether the real benefit of the upheaval will be the public who use legal services or big businesses who simply see another money-making opportunity.

Rachael Hughes, managing partner at one of Shropshire's leading law firms, PCB Solicitors, said: “This is the biggest change to the legal landscape in this country for many, many years. It's a fundamental shift and, while we're certainly not against progress, we are concerned about how it's going to develop."

Among the chief worries of experienced lawyers is that it is going to create confusion for those who use legal services about what level of service they can expect and who is actually going to be delivering it. It's also likely to mean an explosion in remote, phone or internet-only operations.

Mrs Hughes added: “With the marketing power of huge, multinational companies behind them, these services will be able to brand and advertise themselves in a very slick and convincing way, but will they be able to deliver on service quality when it comes to complex legal isssues? Or will they cherry pick the straightforward work and turn away everyone else because their primary concern will be to return a profit for their shareholders?

“When individuals and businesses need a lawyer it's often because they need professional support for complicated and often stressful matters that are impacting upon them. I can't for one moment imagine that I would want to be stuck in an automated phone system or waiting on hold when I'm desperate for information about my case, or just some reassurance. We would say to people that when your supermarket of choice offers to be your solicitor, you should think very carefully about whether you want to do that or to be able to drive or walk down the road to discuss your issues one-to-one with a caring professional who is part of your community."

The first new entrants to the legal market under the new system, known as Alternative Business Structures, are expected to be approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority within the first six weeks of the year and new offering are likely to begin appearing on the market shortly afterwards.


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