A family-run firm of funeral directors with 36 branches has become the first of its kind to set up an alternative business structure.
Lodge Brothers Legal Services, launched last week, offers fixed-fee services for clients wanting wills, probate and powers of attorney.
Lodge Brothers is a 230-year-old business with the seventh generation of the Lodge family in charge. Its branches are mainly dotted around the south and west of London, into Surrey and Berkshire.
Sophie Andrews, head of legal services, said: “We really want to achieve a situation where Lodge Brothers can offer its families a full service.
“We already offer funeral flowers and stationery. We want to be a one-stop shop so that if there is anything they need, we can help them with it.”
Ms Andrews, previously a private client specialist in private practice, said the ABS could expand into conveyancing “further down the line”.
She went on: “The big advantage for the client is that they haven’t got the bother of finding a solicitor. They may not have used a solicitor before and they may feel intimidated about using one. We are easy to access and approachable.
“We are a family business, which is very well regarded and liked, and gets a lot of repeat business. Clients have great confidence in the firm and we’re setting up our legal services on the same basis.”
However, Ms Andrews said Lodge Brothers Legal Services would not push for rapid expansion. “We’re taking things slowly because we’re very keen to offer a very personal service. We have the potential to have a very large volume of work, but we don’t want more work than we can deal with effectively.”
Ms Andrews said legal services would only be offered initially through 10 Lodge Brothers offices, all of them in Surrey apart from the head office in Feltham, Middlesex.
She said she did not envisage recruiting more than a single new fee-earner by the end of the year, before building up her team up to six next year. Ms Andrews said she would travel to branch offices to see clients.
The ABS offers fixed-fee probate services from £250 plus VAT, fixed fee wills from £275 plus VAT, and fixed-fee lasting powers of attorney from £450 plus VAT.
Ms Andrews said clients liked to know where they were with fees. “There is no reason why lawyers shouldn’t be able to offer a fixed fee. The days of solicitors quoting an hourly rate and saying ‘I don’t know how long it will take’ are over. I don’t think it is a fair way to charge people.”
Ms Andrews said that private client services had to accessible and affordable so that people did not need to resort to DIY.
She described many of the DIY wills she had seen as “next to useless”, on the grounds they were not signed properly or had no executors. “You rarely come across a DIY will that works.”
Ms Andrews is the head of legal practice at the ABS and Michael Lodge, a family member and accountant, head of finance and administration.
“It’s a very exciting time for me as a solicitor,” she said. “I’ve always worked in traditional law firms. To be given a clear canvass is a unique opportunity.”
She added: “Obviously the Co-op was the first to offer a combination of funeral and legal services, but we are the first family-owned funeral directors to set up an ABS. We did it because the family see it an additional service they can offer the clients they help.”