U.K. Consumers Add Legal Advice to Shopping Lists
In a world where the costs of legal services are perceived as being beyond the means of all but the richest, Britain’s new rules permitting lawyers to practice in retail premises may imply that prices will be affordable for all their customers.
Nicknamed “Tesco law” because its point, as the Financial Times reports, was to make access to legal advice as easy as buying a tin of beans, the new Legal Services Act means retailers in England and Wales are now free to establish consultancies on consumer law.
The intention is to “offer more choice and better value,” according to the BBC, adding “the government says the change would encourage economic growth in the industry and raise the profile of the UK as a first-class legal services market.” Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly (who has been reducing legal aid) claims firms will be able “to set up multidisciplinary practices and provide opportunities for growth,” making legal services “more accessible, more efficient and more competitive … benefiting from investment and allowing them to explore new markets.”
Under the new system, Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) will permit practices offering combinations of financial, legal and other advice, based at different kinds of business. The Financial Times describes the new system as “one of the most innovative in the world”, explaining ABSs “will be able to extend partnership to professionals other than solicitors … while companies that are not law firms, will be able to offer legal services” and citing benefits such as “longer opening hours and more services via modern communication methods.”
Channel 4 news emphasized the value of non-lawyers investing in and owning legal businesses.
First movers include the Co-operative Group, opening in banks, and newsagent and bookstore chain, WHSmith, hoping its partners, Quality Solicitors, will be in 300 locations by the autumn. Tesco itself reportedly has “no current plans to offer legal services.”
Opponents such as The QualitySolicitors.com grouping and the Solicitors Sole Practitioners Group worry that “good quality, local legal advice” could disappear or be undermined in an “untried and untested innovation” only implemented in parts of Australia. The Financial Times suspects “what even the biggest firms say in public … might be very different from what they say in private,” however.
- Supermarket ‘law shops’ to sell legal services – BBC
- The new rules of law – Financial Times
- ‘Tesco law’ shake-up for legal services – Channel 4
- ‘Tesco law’ makes legal services available from your supermarket – Financial Services
Discussion Questions: Is there a market in the U.S. to access legal service in retail outlets? Would retailers benefit from having law firms in stores?