New DIY law firms in the UK prepare to compete with their traditional counterparts
New providers of legal services in Britain aim to play a major part in driving down costs and making the law more accessible to hard-pressed consumers. Recent legislation, the Legal Services Act (dubbed ‘Tesco Law’), relaxes restrictions on the ownership of legal firms, paving the way for Alternative Business Structures. Whether it’s relatively straightforward matters such as writing a will, or potentially more complicated areas such as employment, change is afoot.
Online United States firms Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom are chief among the newest entrants into this fledgling UK market. The former launched in November 2012; the latter is set to launch ‘imminently.’ Both claim they may adapt their US experience to fundamentally alter the UK legal landscape, creating affordable and easier routes to civil law. Rocket Lawyer offers online document creation, with the back-up of a network of lawyers.
Mark Edwards, Rocket Lawyer’s Vice President and UK General Manager, tells The Positive, “The consumer and small business is yet to receive the legal service that they need and deserve. We’re aiming to make the law simple and affordable for these customers.”’He adds: “That’s what we’re doing in the US already, and the UK has the same challenges as the US and is the next biggest legal market globally.”
In a similar move, LegalZoom is partnering with QualitySolicitors, a network of UK law firms to launch its overseas endeavour. The former’s technology might combine with the latter’s solicitors, who will offer local support and advice from over 400 locations across the UK.
The range of services includes company formations, employment contracts, wills and power of attorney, and divorces available online 24/7, with local QualitySolicitors on-hand to review or help complete documents and provide further face-to-face advice and representation where necessary.
Although the legislation has given fresh impetus to such entrepreneurial initiatives, the vast market for legal services has been attracting cut-price players for many years. Lawpack, which provides packs of forms and guidance on the simpler legal transactions, was set up 20 years ago. Its products are sold in well-known retail outlets such as WH Smith, where a will-writing pack is available for £19.99. The packs are also available online.
“It’s a do-it-yourself solution,” Thomas Coles, director at Lawpack, tells The Positive. Lawpack points to the importance of cheaper ways of making wills, especially for the less well-off, with research showing that socioeconomic groups C, D and E (which include skilled and unskilled manual workers and casual labourers) are less likely to make wills.
He explains that the packs work best in “straightforward” areas such as wills and tenancy agreements. “Throughout all our packs we suggest to people that if there are any complications, they really do need to seek advice from a professional, a solicitor.”
Lawpack has recently developed partnerships with some legal firms to extend its range of services. The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, says there is an increasing demand for accessibly priced legal services and notes that firms with models like those of Rocket Lawyer and Lawpack are on the rise.
The Citizens Advice Bureau may well be a useful starting point. The CAB offers a free source of advice, support and a raft of information, including helpful leaflets. It encourages people to think and talk through their options before launching a formal legal procedure.
If it looks as though law is necessary, the latest online legal businesses add to the overall choice available. Even longer-established players such as Lawpack accept the new offerings could be beneficial. Lawpack’s Coles says: “It’s all good for the market, certainly good for the consumer.”