Commercial properties which are accommodated by supermarkets and banks will soon be able to sell legal advice in England and Wales, thanks to a change in the law. But do consumers really want to discuss a dispute about their neighbour whilst picking through bruised apples to reach the best ones?
The move comes under The Legal Services Act, which the Government believes will offer consumers more choice and better value when seeking legal advice. Previously lawyers had been restricted to financing, management and ownership firms only. However under new trading bodies, called the Alternative Business Structures (ABS), lawyers will be able to work in different commercial properties, offering advice on finance and legal issues.
Jonathan Djanogly, Justice Minister expressed, “Our legal services are already rated among the best in the world, used by millions of people around the globe as well as in the UK, and these changes will set them up to move to new heights. They will enable firms to set up multi-disciplinary practices and provide opportunities for growth.”
“Potential customers will find legal services become more accessible, more efficient and more competitive,” Jonathan added.
However the change in the law has received mixed opinions. Victor Olowe, Chief Executive of Licensed Conveyancers said, “We have over 20 years’ experience in regulating the licensed conveyancing profession and we will be extending the same rigorous but proportionate approach to the regulation of ABS.
“We believe that ABS is good news for consumers. Opening up the market will offer people a greater choice of legal service provider, while at the same time our new risk-based and outcomes-focussed approach to regulation will help ensure high standards of service, and will maximise consumer protection,” Victor added.
Other people have argued that the act could jeopardise the quality of financial and legal advice being offered. Clive Sutton from the Solicitors Sole Practitioners Group said, “The government seem unconcerned that the introduction of Alternative Business Structures puts at risk the independence of legal advice, via the profit interests of commercial owners.”
The new law will not only give lawyers more freedom, but at the moment solicitors will have to wait until the Solicitors Regulation Authority changes its licensing. However barristers could take on new roles, if they wished to do so within the commercial properties offering legal services and could also form new partnerships under the law.
Scotland already has a similar law in place, which was brought in, in October last year. But so far only two states in Australia have approved the new law. So far the Co-operative Group has shown interest in the new law, but Tesco says it has, “no current plans to offer legal services.”
Already consumers can do their weekly shop at the same times as picking up a new duvet set, a new television and the children’s birthday presents. Are we soon to see the vast majority of services available, all in a supermarket? But do we as consumers really want everything in one commercial property?
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