A review of the new legal service providers targeting consumers in the UK

by Legal Author on March 14, 2013

(Guest post from a legal blogger in the UK regarding the new legal service providers targeting consumers in the UK).

Since the introduction of the Legal Services Act in 2011 a plethora of new consumer facing legal businesses have emerged in the UK market. Many of these new entrants didn’t need the Act to commence trading, but the liberalisation that the legislation has brought about has undoubtedly been a catalyst.

The impact that these businesses have on existing law firms varies greatly. Some rely on existing law firms to work with them while others seek to replace the traditional lawyer with a new approach.

The two constant themes emerging from all of these new businesses are consumers and pricing.

Finding a needle in a haystack

This area first started to develop with sites where you could search for a lawyer online. They sought to answer the seemingly age old question of “How do I choose the right lawyer for this important issue?” Some sites have since evolved the concept of a tailored search and selection service with price comparison features. Unless they are perceived to be claims management companies they do not currently need to be regulated.  With sites such as Wigster.com, Lawcomparison.co.uk and comparelegalcosts.co.uk vying for position, the Solicitors Regulation Authority recently discussed the need for regulation of these businesses, although a decision on the detail is awaited.

A recent search for a “wills” lawyer in “Birmingham” provided details of a firm in Durham. Switching the search location to “North London” provided a near identical set of results. Results like this are not going to be good enough for comparison sites in the age of increasing consumer choice. To be successful they need to provide a truly independent assessment of the firm being recommended.

A brand new approach

Another concept that has developed over the last couple of years is the legal brand. Led by Quality Solicitors with others such as HighStreetLawyer.com and the Bold Group hot on their heels, these umbrella groups are laying claim to a solution to two overlapping problems. The first is the same as for the comparison sites; consumers simply don’t know how to confidently choose their law firm. The power of a brand for this conundrum is strong. The other problem that brands are seeking to solve is that smaller law firms need to join forces in order to compete. It’s still early days for these collectives and time will tell if they can do enough for their two distinct markets of consumers and lawyers.

Do it yourself

A third approach seeks to get rid of most of the traditional lawyering leaving it to the consumer themselves to draft their own document or rely on technology for service delivery. The UK consumer market has been heavily targeted by US companies Rocket Lawyer and Legal Zoom seeking to translate their successful service to a UK customer. Both provide document assembly platforms with minimal lawyer intervention except in the most extreme of cases. Riverview Law has a similar triage approach that involves lawyers providing fixed price services only when necessary, with subscribing clients having access to a large online library of documents and research.  Its target market is small and medium sized businesses.

Big is beautiful?

The first big brand to be granted an Alternative Business Structure licence was CO-OP Legal Services. Closely followed by SAGA, the impact that these huge consumer businesses will have on legal services is yet to be fully felt. With huge client databases and expert knowledge of delivering other professional services, the jump into law should be an easy market to crack. But, will consumers want to buy their legal advice from an all-rounder who they get their insurance and banking from or will they want a provider dedicated to law?

The choice is yours

Each of these models has their merits, as does the traditional model. Due to the Legal Services Act, there is a wider choice for the consumer and this must surely be a good thing. However, with too much choice the parameters of comparison can get blurred. Consumers choosing their legal provider will need to read the small print to decide what they truly want from their lawyer and find out who is really providing the service and what they get for your money.

Legal Author

Legal Author

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