The Co-op and the “halo effect”

Could visitation rights be combined with the weekly shop?

The latest move by Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) is very smart, rather exciting and even a bit surprising.

It is smart because CLS has proved various things by hiring Jenny Beck and Christina Blacklaws (with apologies to the third member of the TV Edwards triumvirate, Chris May). Recruiting two of the best-known family lawyers around is convincing evidence that it is serious about family law and doing it right. The reputation of these two women indicates they will not stand for delivering a second-rate service.

It shows CLS boss Eddie Ryan can sell the CLS project to big names with something to lose if it goes wrong. They are lending their considerable credibility to the business and will not have done so lightly. Solicitors can no longer dismiss CLS as just a low-grade factory stuffed with paralegals. In fact it will be interesting to see if more big-hitters are brought on board to head other bits of the business for the same reason.

It also indicates that CLS is not just in this for the low-hanging fruit of consumer legal services but is prepared to take on a difficult market like family law.

I think it is rather exciting because of the possibility of making family legal services accessible in a way that is urgently required given the imminent legal aid cuts that will take many people out of eligibility for funding for family matters. Bluntly, these changes may particularly affect the kind of people who typically use the Co-op.

These two solicitors have been at the forefront of the battle over family legal aid and so know the issues all too well. Speaking to Ms Blacklaws yesterday she enthused about the opportunity she has at CLS to spend several months creating a new business from the ground up, finding new and innovative ways of delivering the service.

Some people have long thought that it would take a new entrant to the market, a retailer perhaps, to take a blank sheet and develop a different way to provide a service that is becoming ever harder to sustain through the traditional model.

But I am also a bit surprised that CLS is getting into family law. I have always thought that organisations with brands and other service lines to protect would be wary of getting involved in contentious work like family. It is not hard to imagine the bitter divorce where the other spouse will vow never to step foot in a Co-op store again because they feel they have been done over by their spouse’s CLS solicitor.

In fairness, Ms Blacklaws recognises this risk, but believes the reverse could also be true, producing what she describes as a “halo effect”. If CLS can deliver a service that helps people at one of the lowest points of their lives – rather than being legal rottweilers – “then it doesn’t matter which side you’re on”, she says. “Everyone’s grateful for that.”

So this is a canny move by CLS – an all-round “halo effect” perhaps. That it has built up a £25m business in five years shows consumers have bought into what it is doing, but it is fair to say that the legal profession has been very sniffy (not that CLS cares, from what I can judge). This, however, will make those critics really sit up and take notice of the competition coming their way.


    Readers Comments

  • I am not surprised. The Times did an article recently that public funded work is ripe for an outsider to come in and provide costs effective service on the high streets around the country. I agree its exciting. It will open up other areas as well.

  • I agree that this is a significant development and shows CLS’s commitment to delivering a range of high quality legal services. From what I have seen of their business though this has long been the case and they were always far from a “low-grade factory stuffed with paralegals”. Yes – they may be doing things differently but their commitment to providing a sympathetic but effective (and that includes cost-effective) client experience is at least equal to any law firm.

  • All family law firms need to watch closely how Christina Blacklaws and Jenny Beck with CLS develop their services and be ready for the challenge of offering their clients a credible alternative that’s profitable.

    The CoOp’s target client market and solicitors’ common response of ‘but our clients wouldn’t use the CoOp’ or ‘there’s always the other side’ is missing the main threat to family law firms. CoOp will develop and promote a service that all other services can easily be compared to, feature by feature, benefit by benefit to the client.

    Whether clients would use CLS or not doesn’t matter, the CoOp will set a new standard for the delivery of complex legal services that all firms will need to compete with. This challenge is an opportunity for family law firms to make the changes they need to compete but you’d better move quickly.

    Alastair Moyes
    Marketing managers for competitive solicitors

  • Jon busby says:

    Co-op has a hugely established and well respected brand, way beyond anything current or being built in or via the ‘legal sector.’ Their ethical stance is a very compelling fit into legal.

    They will start to educate the market in new and yes better ways to engage. ‘Better’ will be determined by the market not by lawyers. Education is how brands enter and dominate markets, especially if those markets have embedded suppliers who have little or no appetite to change beyond the usual lip service.

    Their announcement is littered with hints that they want to review and add to the way consumers can consume legal services. They genuinely seem to be looking at new ways of engaging beyond the brand leverage.

    I think it is also interesting that they are not talking about x% market share etc. I get no sense of ‘over egging’ it here which is common in many announcements in this sector. They are being quite conservative in their statement and just getting on with it. They are also cherry picking key people not firms, controlling from the centre and have none of the legacy issues that come with a ‘firm.’

  • Good move by Co-op – they’re no fools. I suspect the heavyweights are there more to guide them through the closed and cliquey world of family courts and regulations which dare not speak their name. Either way – a shrewd statement of intent.

    It seems we have 5 stages evident as lawyers see how others do legal services:
    1. They’re not lawyers doing real law.
    2. They can’t be allowed to get away with That!
    3. They’re not qualified enough and can’t come to Our big table, unless…
    4. They’re actually quite good, and some clients seem to really like them.
    5. And they’re not going away…

  • Everyone is being very kind about CLS and the Co-op’s commercial acumen.

    The supermarkets are most certainly not run in the same customer-service-orientated way as their retail competitors. In fact, let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is in fact a co-operative and not a listed company with the same obligations for reporting and commitment to the market.

    So this could mean the CLS service could easily be second-rate (notwithstanding the reputation of Beck and Blacklaws and their probable reluctance to be associated with an inferior legal operation).

    Worth emphasising is the point that a good reputation in family law does not need to go hand in glove with profitability. There is nothing to stop CLS cross-subsidising loss making operations with profitable ones.

    This should make local family law specialists worried. Divorce is an expensive enough business for couples as it is – the chance to save money on proceedings via CLS might be a compelling proposition.

  • I couldn’t care less if CLS does divorce after divorce for cheap. Ancillary Relief and Collaborative Law is where the future is, given cuts in legal aid, and that sort of work isn’t best suited to call centres or remote working no matter how good the lawyer.
    Good luck to CLS. Im sure the customer experience will be as good as dealing with TalkTalk or any other call centre. Meantime anyone wishing to speak with a person they can see should instruct their local Collaborative Law Solicitor.
    Not only that, the assumption that CLS will be more efficient, cheaper and ethical, will be tested by consumer experience.

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