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In the run up to the Legal Services Act and its “aftermath” the name that came to symbolise the supposed rise of consumer brands entering the legal market was Tesco.
Over the last few years we have seen The Co-Op make attempts to build a consumer legal brand off the back of its mutual status and ethical credentials in its other businesses. After a bright start and initial growth things seem to have gone quiet, possibly because of the challenges presented by a previous Chief Executive and trouble with the financial parts of the business.
Quality Solicitors agreed a tie up with WHSmith for “pop up” legal booths in selected stores staffed by QS members. That idea lasted only a couple of years before quietly disappearing.
This deregulated market is being looked at by other major legal services markets with a mix of fear and admiration, particularly the US and Canada. The UK is seen as a “trail blazer” by some in this regard. However, many of the ABS vehicles that have appeared over the last couple of years are providing very targeted services, mainly to the commercial sector, eg BT, Buckinghamshire Law Plus, EY and KPMG. Big consumer brands delivering services to private individuals seem to be keeping out of the market at present.
There is one place where a global consumer brand has decided to enter the legal services market – Walmart in Canada. Axess Law opened a law office in the Markham Walmart in January last year. They now have at least four branches with plans for another seven by the middle of 2015 and then a possible nationwide rollout. Axess offers wills for just $99 and real-estate deals for $1,288, tax and other expenses included. The branches are open seven days a week until 8pm. The busiest time for them is between 5-8pm and Saturday and Sunday, when traditional law firms are shut. Their offering is not “full service” but focusses on notary services, real estate law, simple wills and powers of attorney that are performed on-site, allowing home buyers and sellers to drop off and pick up keys after hours instead of between 9am and 5pm.
Granted, Axcess Law is not an ABS but a law firm in structure. However, if this model is successful for Walmart in Canada then I predict that Asda in the UK will follow the example and offer legal services within the next two years. They will do it through an ABS because they can and they will have a successful model to build on.
What was “Tesco Law” in theory will be “Asda Law” in reality.
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