Co-op legal arm to create 3,000 new jobs in ABS expansion drive
The Co-operative Group is set to offer 3,000 new jobs in its legal services arm, creating what it claims will be "the largest consumer law business in the country".
Ninety percent of the new positions at Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) will be legal roles, with the remainder of the jobs in its support team.
CLS is also planning to launch five new regional centres across England and Wales to operate alongside its Bristol base, which currently has around 450 legally trained and support staff. The retail giant's legal services arm last November unveiled plans to launch a family law operation in London during 2012.
The annnouncement comes after CLS became one of the first three alternative business structures (ABSs) to be licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in March this year, a move which will allow it to offer a range of consumer legal services previously only available from private solicitors. At the time, the retail giant confirmed plans to recruit 150 new members of staff.
Group chief executive Peter Marks also today (24 May) restated CLS's intention to offer legal services across all of its 330 high street outlets, after a successful pilot in 30 bank branches.
Marks said: "We see the law as yet another area where a Co-operative solution can be successfully applied for the customer's benefit. Over the next five years we want to fundamentally change the face of legal services and make access far easier - today's announcement underlines that ambition.
"We are particularly keen to use our expansion as a way to offer opportunities to young people. Legal apprenticeships and opportunities for study leave will form an important part of this major employment opportunity."
The reforms ushered in by the Legal Services Act - which came into force in September last year - allow law firms to take external investment and be owned by non-lawyers for the first time, meaning companies can run their own legal arms. CLS was awarded its ABS licence in March alongside Kent family practice Lawbridge Solicitors and Oxfordshire firm John Welch and Stammers.
As well as family law, CLS will offer services including will writing, probate and estate administration, conveyancing, personal injury claims, and employment law advice - via telephone, web or face-to face.
Marks added: "When the new legal services legislation was drafted it was envisaged that it would enable a new range of businesses to enter the closed world of legal services. Our ambition is to provide a service that will stop people feeling daunted by the prospect of having to work with a solicitor."
The Ministry of Justice designated the SRA as a licensing body in December last year, enabling it to begin accepting ABS applications on 3 January 2012. Other firms known to have applied include Irwin Mitchell, while a raft of other UK top 50 law firms have also expressed an interest in a conversion, including Hill Dickinson, Kennedys, DAC Beachcroft and Withers.
However, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, Asda and Waitrose have all confirmed that they have no current plans to branch out into legal services, despite the Co-op's high-profile move into the market.