QualitySolicitors (QS) has received a major cash injection that will accelerate the nationwide expansion of its brand, it announced today. The plan is to have over 1,000 branches by the end of next year.
Pan-European private equity house Palamon Capital Partners has taken a majority stake in QS – for an unspecified but “substantial” sum – with the aim of “establishing the UK’s dominant brand for individual and SME legal services”.
Steve Richards, the former chief executive of Interflora, has been appointed QS’s chairman.
There are currently around 110 QS firms that between them have a presence in 220 locations, in addition to the WH Smith ‘legal access points’; QS chief executive Craig Holt told Legal Futures they have had expressions of interest from 1,800 more firms.
He said Palamon shares “our vision of creating the Specsavers of the legal world”. The money – which goes into the central infrastructure and not the firms – would allow QS firms to “differentiate themselves even further in their local markets in terms of awareness and the quality of service”.
As well as a major new marketing campaign starting in January – with a new look and feel and likely to cost more than £10m – QS is to use some of the investment to set up a ‘conversion centre’, where leads will be turned into appointments. “Generally the legal profession is absolutely appalling at converting leads,” said Mr Holt.
In time this is likely to be the single point of entry to the QS network, although there is an unresolved question over whether member firms’ own local enquiries will be routed through the centre.
The money will also help establish a dedicated in-house mystery shopping department, while Mr Holt said QS is in an advanced stage of head-hunting a series of high-profile people from within the legal profession. He confirmed that QS is to introduce online legal services as well.
Jonathan Heathcote, a partner at Palamon, said QS has similarities with other investments it has made in the professional services sector, such as Integrated Dental Holdings, the UK’s largest dental chain, and Towry, the UK’s biggest independently owned group of financial advisers.
He said: “As part of a thesis on the legal services market, we have been looking for investment opportunities over the past couple of years. It is clear to us that QualitySolicitors is well positioned to become one of the leading business models in this newly liberalised market. This represents an unparalleled opportunity to build a national brand that will, in time, see QualitySolicitors’ firms become the providers of choice for local legal services.”
Mr Richards described the Legal Services Act as creating “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a strong national network of local solicitors operating under a trusted brandsaid that despite fierce competition from the supermarkets… We built Interflora into the sector-dominant brand by focusing on quality and service and I’m extremely excited about repeating that achievement at QualitySolicitors, in a similarly fragmented market”.
Mr Holt said Palamon generally held its investments for around six years, although he said its involvement in QS is likely to be longer so as to build a “Specsavers-type business”.