Co-op granted licence to sell legal services

Elizabeth Fournier
CO-OPERATIVE Legal Services has become the first alternative business structure (ABS) to launch in the UK after being officially approved by regulators, along with a pair of regional solicitors’ firms.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said yesterday it had licensed the Co-operative Group subsidiary, Oxford-based John Welch and Stammers, and Lawbridge Solicitors in Kent as ABSs, three months after it started taking applications under new rules set by the Legal Services Act.

The licence will allow the Co-op to expand its practice from personal injury claims into family law, a move the group says will lead to it taking on an extra 150 employees this year.

Co-op has long positioned itself as a figurehead for the liberalisation of the UK’s legal market, saying it wants to become the country’s biggest provider of consumer legal services over the next decade.

“This is a huge milestone for UK legal services and the future of alternative business structures,” said justice minister Jonathan Djanogly. “ABSs introduce more competition in the market place, delivering competitive pricing, higher standards of product and more choice.”

The SRA said yesterday that around 60 applications had now moved onto the second stage of the licensing process, after initial interest from nearly 180 applicants.