Lawyers2you is to become the first legal network to take on London when it launches its first franchise in the east of the city shortly, Legal Futures can reveal.
The news comes after Lawyers2you faced criticism in the press for an A-board used by one of its stands in central Birmingham that encouraged people who were unhappy with their partner to seek advice on the options open to them.
Lawyers2you is the consumer-facing brand of Birmingham law firm Blakemores that has stands in shopping centres across the midlands. A franchise model is being piloted ahead of a national roll-out, with law firms able to buy exclusive access to leads emanating from their area.
There are currently four pilots running outside of Birmingham and one on the south-coast, while there are two firms working alongside Blakemores in Birmingham to handle criminal work – which Blakemores does not do – and overflow personal injury and clinical negligence work because too much is coming in.
Guy Barnett, chief executive of Blakemores, said two other pilots were stopped because the firms involved did not focus sufficiently on personal injury, which is the main category of work generated.
“The concept’s working, although we have to do quite a bit of work with the firms on conversion and upselling,” he said.
While Mr Barnett had initially planned to grow Lawyers2you by expanding out from Birmingham, “we have taken a strategic view to target London… because the types of work we market are prevalent in London”.
He has London divided into 38 territories and he hopes to have 10 of them covered in the next six months. Once London has been completed, Mr Barn
ett said he will move on to the rest of the UK. He said he had already seen some economies of scale, while he is adding new services to the consumers, such as one to advise on individual voluntary arrangements.
Another innovation is to be “tri-level” conveyancing pricing, with consumers able to choose whether they want a ‘gold, silver or bronze’ service. “We’ve found out that not everyone wants the same value from the service,” Mr Barnett said.
Meanwhile, the A-board in Paradise Forum in central Birmingham – coincidentally little more than a stone’s throw from the offices of the Legal Ombudsman – was criticised by a local Conservative councillor for possibly encouraging people to end their relationships. The local branch of Relate also weighed in, saying people unhappy in a relationship should not talk to a lawyer first.
The story was picked up by national newspapers and television, and Mr Barnett said he had received two complaints from vicars as a result; however, the firm also received a large number of enquiries from potential family law clients, as well from three private equity houses.
Mr Barnett said it was “interesting that an A-board could attract so much comment” and that lawyers were being blamed for a wider social malaise: “We didn’t make it rain; we just have an umbrella.”
He added that the initial advice Blakemores offers is often that people should seek counselling from the likes of Relate. Only 18% of family law enquiries are converted into fee-paying legal advice.
Mr Barnett questioned how people would react once major brands enter the market “and put behind legal services the same kind of advertising that they do for their other products and services… Advertising for legal services is going to be much more in the public domain”.
A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said: “This advertisement does not sound as though it breaches the code as it merely points out that confidential advice is available, and therefore it’s just highlighting the services that solicitors offer.”