The Legal Services Act 2007 could potentially represent the most significant change ever seen to the legal industry in this country. There is no denying the fact that many of the already established legal firms are slightly apprehensive over the introduction of certain provisions of this Act, and with good reason, as the whole ethos of their company and the way in which they carry out their business is likely to be brought into question, once these new laws finally come into effect. The specific legislation to which we are referring in this article is provided for under part V, ss. 71 to 72 of the Act.
This legislation was due to come into force in early October 2011 but has now been delayed, and it is thought that it will now do so in Spring 2012. Effectively, once implemented, it will mean that the legal marketplace will be opened up to an entirely different level. Whereas the public are currently only familiar with seeking legal services from an already established law firm, in the future, other companies will be able to offer such services, provided they are licensed as an ‘ABS’ (Alternative Business Structure).
Although the legal industry appears to be toning down the potential impacts of this legislation, it really doesn’t take much scratching beneath the surface to reveal just how worried they really are. At present, around 10,500 registered legal firms compete in an industry that is said to be very ‘gentlemanly’ in nature. In other words, there appears to be an unwritten convention whereby all such firms agree to market their services in the same discreet way. From the public’s perspective, this is specifically designed to make the identification of fundamental differences between firms a purposefully difficult task.
The legal industry also relies upon the fact that there is a definite element of awe towards the profession; the public would not expect such firms to compete in a brash manner, and there is a general perception that one solicitor would be able to undertake any legal service in much the same way as his or her colleague. Also, the industry has always attempted to dissuade their clients from playing firms against each other over ‘fee wars’.
Well now, hold on to your hats, folks, as this little disingenuous and cushioned world could very well be about to come tumbling down! The Legal Services Act 2007 will now make it entirely possible for a person to approach a company that has absolutely nothing to do with law (at the moment) for legal services. Indeed, a number of companies are waiting to jump on board this bandwagon, and The Co-op has already established a £20 million business through offering legal services even before the Act has come into force. The impact of this provision of legal services becoming readily available through high-street names has actually earned this legislation the moniker of ‘Tesco’s Law’.
Of course, at this time, we can only speculate on the true impact of this legislation on the provision of legal services in this country. However, many people are hailing it as a much-needed amendment to an industry that has become staid and out-of-date. Ever since the Internet was first introduced, it has been interesting to note the number of sites that have sprung up in an effort to make the legal firms more accountable for the services they provide to the general public and the value for money they can offer. In fact, today there are actually a number of sites that review firms of solicitors, and it has become completely apparent that the public believe that the legal industry should be equally admonished when they have been on the receiving end of poor service.
Law firms will undoubtedly be forced to evaluate their marketing strategies in the future. When they could be potentially competing with some of the biggest household names for business, it goes without saying that the previous ‘gentlemanly’ agreement is very unlikely to cut the mustard, and clients are actively going to want to find the best level of service for the very best price.