Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) has today made its major move into family law services by unveiling a telephone advice service for those people still able to claim legal aid help and a network of 78 face-to-face locations across England and Wales.
The network is made up of its own offices, Co-operative Bank branches, National Family Mediation centres and its six panel barristers’ chambers.
CLS – which has been an alternative business structure for more than a year – established its family law division in September 2012 and says it has helped around 7,000 people since then, providing around £200,000 worth of free initial legal advice to those not eligible for legal aid as part of that.
By the summer CLS will have around 60 fee-earners doing this work, making it probably the largest family law practice in the country.
Christina Blacklaws, director of family law at CLS, said: “As a business, we are committed to providing access to justice and equality for all before the law. We will continue to deliver legal aid family law services for the long term as part of our business-wide values to promote our social and community responsibilities.
“Our large and growing team brings expertise to those areas of family law still covered by legal aid and we are also working closely with other third-party providers, particularly in the not-for-profit sector, to ensure that clients experience a smooth referral process if they require help with related problems, such as housing, debt, welfare and benefits.”
Earlier this month in the wake of the legal aid cuts, CLS launched a campaign  against hourly billing called ‘Stop the Clock’, citing research that more than four out of five divorcees want family law services provided by fixed fees. Nearly a third of people paying by the hour felt unable to query what solicitors were charging for and almost a quarter said they “lost control of the bill”.
It found that nearly one in five divorcing individuals paid over £2,500 in legal costs and 4% paid over £10,000. More than a quarter (27%) said they felt unable to ask their solicitors questions or chase them for fear of increasing the fees and 83% preferred fixed fees.
CLS has a detailed tariff (minus VAT) of fixed-fee family services, which includes £175 for a telephone consultation, followed up by written advice and a second telephone call to clarify any issues, or £99 for its basic DIY divorce petitioner package. For an extra £50 CLS will check documents before submission to the court and another £150 will buy an hour’s advice.