The opening up of the field of legal advice by the Legal Services Act last year left many in the profession wondering how the playing field was likely to change once other types of organisations began offering legal advice as part of their platform. One of the first to take advantage of the change in the law was the Co-op, which recently launched its Co-operative Legal Services division with a series of TV adverts that were designed to show just how much less complicated, and how much easier, the co-op could make understanding the law.
The sales and marketing director of the Co-operative Legal Services division, Ian Mackie, said about the choice of advertising campaign, “We’ve done a lot of research and talked to a lot of customers about their fears and anxieties of using legal services and talking to solicitors. They worry if they can trust the advice, or if they’re being ripped off or the jargon makes them feel small. We understand that. It’s a natural thing for the Co-op to put the customer at the heart of our plans. For a solicitor it’s an alien approach.” Whilst the company initially appeared to be fully behind Mackie’s marketing strategy, it has recently taken steps to distance itself from those comments that were made in such full confidence of the potential effectiveness of the TV advertising campaign.
The reason for this is that rival law firms have since highlighted that the approach being taken by the Co-operative Legal Services division might actually be contrary to the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority’s (SRA) Code of Conduct, which provides 10 core principles that regulate the industry. It is Principle Six, which states that firms must ‘maintain the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services’ that Mackie’s campaign is accused of rubbishing, thanks to its apparent position that the rest of the profession is making legal service provision overly complicated and jargon-filled so that understanding it is out of reach for the average man or woman on the street.
Whilst the chief operating officer of The Co-operative Legal Services has publicly taken the step away from Mackie’s comments by stating that the company wholeheartedly supports the profession, it is not yet known whether any action is likely to be taken against the business as a result of the campaign. This is principally because – as the Solicitors Regulation Authority itself has said – solicitors don’t normally speak in public like this about each other.
Whilst the Co-operative Legal Services might have been trying to distinguish itself from the competition with the advertising campaign, has it gone too far with a move that could effectively be seen as blackening the name of the profession? Whether it does end up facing any kind of sanction, it’s clear that although the Legal Services Act might have levelled the playing field for outside organisations in theory, much like the new kid at school, newcomers probably still have much to learn about the intricacies of the profession itself if they’re going to thrive in it.
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