Well, it has happened. Last week saw the highly controversial Legal Services Act 2007 come into effect. ABS' have arrived and as of the 6th October 2011, the media dubbed 'Tesco Law' became a reality.
According to the Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly, the act coming into force was "a landmark day for the UK legal industry. Our legal services are already rated among the best in the world, and used by millions around the globe as well as in the UK, and these changes will set them up to move to new heights. They will enable firms to set up multi-disciplinary practices and provide opportunities for growth”.
Should we be quaking in our boots?
To briefly summarise, ABS' (Alternative Business Structures) are intended to give consumers a wider choice of legal services allowing supermarkets, banks and insurance companies, to name but a few, to enter into the legal market.
Where previously only solicitors could own and operate a law firm, the Legal Services Act now allows law firms to take internal investment and be owned by non-lawyers for the first time. This basically means that any company can run its own legal arm. Additionally, the change in the law will allow existing law firms to potentially seek investment through private equity and float on the stock exchange.
What does this mean for Farleys Solicitors LLP? The driving force of the changes is to give greater power and choice to the consumer. Existing law firms, including ourselves, will have to move beyond the traditional image of solicitors to meet consumer expectations. The key is to deliver a service that is up there with the very best in consumer services.
It is a crucial time for us to be able to differentiate ourselves from not only our fellow firms, but also from high street retailers, many of which will have significant marketing budgets at their disposal.
Our clients instruct us because of our reputation in providing quality. They want to deal with qualified people - solicitors. They want the best legal advice from experienced people. Selling legal services is not the same as selling baked beans, clients do not want confusion, they still prefer to deal directly with solicitors, given their unique selling point of being trusted advisors.
With the introduction of ABS' I am of the opinion that there will be a reduction in the need for solicitors, as more non-legal staff will undertake legal work and the solicitor will just review and sign off documents. In opening up the market, an ABS can expect to make a decent profit in various legal areas including wills, personal injury and conveyancing. We will have to adapt accordingly.
To answer the question originally posed, do we quake in our boots? The answer is no. This is an opportunity to develop and improve the way existing services are delivered. A strong reputation counts and we are certainly in a position to meet this new challenge.