Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) is making a significant investment in face-to-face advice for the first time after acquiring a wills, trust and probate company.
Collective Legal Solutions is CLS’s first acquisition and is further evidence that, despite changes in the wider group following its well-publicised troubles, legal services remains a core service.
The deal gives CLS 75 ‘associates’ who provide face-to-face services to customers across the country, with a further 25 support staff at Collective’s Sheffield headquarters.
CLS currently has 23 probate consultants who work nationwide, but otherwise its services are provided by telephone and online. The acquisition takes CLS’s total staff numbers to 450.
Collective Legal Solutions, which began life in 2007, is opted-in to the Society of Will Writers’ regulatory regime, with professional indemnity insurance at the same £3m level demanded of solicitors. Staff also work to qualifications awarded by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.
CLS managing director Matt Howells said that while the alternative business structure already had a strong share of probate work – and a “good position” in handling wills remotely – its research showed that when it came to wills, “customers really value the eye-to-eye model”, at least for initial instructions.
It fitted with the wider group’s strategy of “reorienting it back into communities”, he added. “Collective Legal Solutions gives us the ability to put on community-based events.”
The move also had the obvious benefit of building a will bank that would in turn grow the probate practice, he said.
The decision was the first output from a strategic review of CLS that has been taking place over recent months, with the other elements of the practice to be put under the microscope next. Mr Howells declined to speculate whether this would lead to face-to-face advice in other areas of law, with family law the most obvious.
Rod Bulmer, CEO of the consumer services division at the Co-op, added: “This acquisition is a perfect fit for the Co-op, supporting our purpose of championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities.
“Our consumer services businesses – General Insurance, Funeralcare and Legal services – already serve millions of our members in communities across the UK and Collective Legal Solutions will further support that work.
“This acquisition also gives us the opportunity to consider how this face-to-face channel can support other services provided by our consumer services’ businesses and the wider Co-op Group.”
Following major financial problems in 2014, CLS began to recover in the first half of 2015 and Mr Howells said it continued to trade “profitably”.