If you want to deliver legal services but can’t be bothered meeting clients, then perhaps you too could become an ABS…

At a time when many lawyers don’t even want to be lawyers, we ask the question “what is driving the demand for Alternative Business Structures?”

Today, legal expenses insurer DAS has taken the next step in its preparations to become an alternative business structure (ABS) by acquiring online legal services company Everything Legal.

Do they really want to be lawyers or do they want to target the soft underbelly of the legal services market – ‘the low-hanging fruit’ as they see it – and leave the tricky, problematic and challenging lawyering stuff to local firms who employ qualified solicitors? 

We have seen Amanda Holden wax lyrical on Good Morning recently as she ‘helpfully’ and uninvitedly highlighted the evils of High Street law firms whilst extolling the as yet unproven virtues of her new employers.

These would be the very same employers who are relying on said High Street firms signing up for their new franchise in order to deliver legal services in towns and cities the length and breadth of the UK.

Will the public get a better service because law firms have a shiny new sign above the door?

Are the public THAT gullible?

There are quite a few legal brands jostling for position in a market they claim is ripe for re-structuring. They claim that the public have been ripped-off for years by unscrupulous, money-grabbing shysters who fleece their clients and pocket fat fees for old rope.

However, the truly ‘ironical bit’ is that they actually think that their brand new brand will instantly engender client loyalty and referrals as they seek to deal the ‘coup de grace’ to local solicitors…by positioning themselves as trusted legal advisors.   

The mixed message that these brands must sell is this:

“Existing lawyers bad – new lawyers good.”

As for the big beasts in the jungle, aka the ‘supermarket sweepers’, whose legal services business model is predicated on hoovering up everything that they think they can plaster their brand across – AND DELIVER AS CHEAPLY AS POSSIBLE… 

can the public trust the lawbreakers when it comes to upholding their legal rights? 

Sorry, we know that this might sound a bit petty and small-minded and self-serving or even insular and parochial, but actually we don’t wish any of them well in their endeavours.

Why?

Easy one this…

It’s because we and firms like us the length and breadth of Britain are the best legal services option for the British public. 

Experience, expertise and empathy with a client’s case go a long way to reassuring people that solicitors have their best interests at heart.

When all is said and done, in the brave new world of ABS, is the public going to be any the wiser about how to choose a lawyer? 

On 24th November, the legal sector’s consumer watchdog warned that voluntary quality
marks should not be made mandatory to access part of the market as this could ‘usurp’ the role of regulators.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said:

‘Consumers tell us that specialist expertise is important to them when choosing lawyers.However, in their current form, some voluntary membership scheme claims that their members are better than the market average just can’t be relied upon by consumers.’

The watchword for the public here is ask for a personal referral from family and friends and / or trust the tried and tested specialist legal regulators.

Despite the blurb, do not rely on a ‘flag of convenience.’  

Lord Young of ‘Gaffem’ back in favour at Number 10

Good news and bad news for worker safety in the UK

Bad news: Lord Young is back

Good news: there is no good news, well not much anyway… 

Getty Images

‘Never had it so good’ peer Lord Young of Graffam returned to Downing Street last week on Prime Minister’s Mates’ Service or PIMMS… 

His mission, having chosen to accept it, is to help businesses thrive by ridding them of red tape and stifling health and safety regulations.

Thus a fundamentally flawed premise is enshrined in the noble Lord’s brief – Health & Safety costs money and costs jobs.   

In stark contrast to the UK’s government’s stance on health and safety in the workplace, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), said on 15th February this year:

‘Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA’s commonsense regulations have made working conditions in this country today far safer than 40 years ago when the agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs.’

Unfazed by the irony in resurrecting Lord Young’s career in the run up to Halloween, Number 10 officials have set up a new office for the 79-year-old peer who will spearhead a new push to remove barriers to growth for small and medium size companies.

His focus will be on working to ensure businesses are not stifled by regulation and he will look closely at the way health and safety rules impact on firms.

No agenda there then?

Last year his report Common sense, Common Safety, was welcomed by Mr. Cameron who has asked the Conservative peer to cut through the rule book and see where ministers can help businesses.

Unfortunately neither Mr. Cameron, the insurance industry lobby nor the bulk of commentators who regularly line up to vilify accident victims actually noticed that Lord Young didn’t agree with them…

For the record, this is what he said on page 19 of ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’:

Britain’s ‘compensation culture’ is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation payouts for personal injury claims…

The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality…

The public believes that the number of claims and the amount paid out in damages have also risen significantly.

The really unfortunate thing however is that Lord Young singularly failed to get this ‘common sense’ message across.

He wrote that the compensation culture is more myth than reality yet he remained mute and supine on the core issue when the report’s findings were made public. Perhaps this is why he is so suited to the task of fixing the non-problem of the ‘burden’ of Health & Safety legislation? 

Last November Lord Young of Gaffem pronounced:

For the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good ever since this recession – this so-called recession – started…”

We await with baited breath, his magisterial musings on the tiresome burden imposed by laws designed to keep people safe and well at work in the UK.

However, Mr. Cameron has clearly decided Lord Young has served his time and will welcome him back…just when we thought he had gone for good last October…  

 So farewell then Lord Young of Gaffem. 

 You resigned after you made a gaffe.

 You claimed that most people had ‘never had it so good.’ 

 Unfortunately this just isn’t true,

 Like much of your ‘Common Sense Common Safety’ review.

 Adieu.

But not so fast, the prodigal returns.

Expect many more workplace cuts, crushes, crashes and burns.  

Defy, Disregard, Deceive & Deal – the new firm of supermarket lawyers coming to a high street near you soon

Now that we have got Tesco Law, we thought it might be interesting to consider how the supermarkets might go about delivering legal services…

 

Since we are in the very early days of this ‘Brave New World’ of legal services we thought it only fair to turn the spotlight on some recent examples of what happens when some big retailers come up against laws they’re not too keen on…apparently.

 

 

Defy…?

 

On 2nd October the Sunday Mail ran a story with the following headline

 

“Supermarkets slash alcohol prices in sneaky bid to beat new law.”

 

DEFIANT supermarkets slashed booze prices yesterday to beat the new law banning bulk-buy discounts.

 

Shoppers could still buy bargain booze as sneaky stores simply cut prices.

Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Dr Evelyn Gillan said:

 

“Retailers like to present themselves as being responsible, but what they are doing is finding ways to get round the law to ensure they can still sell booze at pocket money prices.

 

 

Disregard…?

 

A row has broken out over a new West Yorkshire Asda supermarket just weeks after it opened.  It has been opening half an hour earlier than permitted since it began trading on Wednesday, September 7.

 

Under the existing planning permission Asda should be starting business at 8.30am each day, but instead has been opening at 8am.

 

The company has now applied, retrospectively, for the earlier time but Councillor Colin Campbell (Lib Dem, Otley & Yeadon) accused it of riding roughshod over the feelings of local residents:

 

He said: “I think it is unfortunate that a large company like Asda choose to flout the planning laws in this way. I have spoken to planning officers concerning this and a number of other unauthorised activities on site. I am told that now that retrospective applications have been submitted they can take no action until they are determined.”

 

An Asda spokesman acknowledged that the store had been opening at the earlier time but said it was now sticking to the 8.30am opening until it gained planning permission

 

Well good on yer mate for observing the rules.

 

He said: “All Asda supermarket stores open at 8am and we didn’t want to deprive the people of Otley by opening 30 minutes later.“

 

Of course! – this is just about ASDA ‘normalising’ its services across the UK!

 

 

Deceive…?

 

 

A Tesco Express, in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, which was the focus of riots in April is still boarded up and has now been covered in graffiti.

 

For years Stokes Croft has been a bohemian area, crammed with independent shops, squats, bars and clubs and it is this individual character which some people felt would be compromised by the arrival of supermarket giant Tesco, even in its smaller Tesco Express guise.

 

Much of the anger was directed at the planning process which failed to make it clear a new supermarket was on the cards which prompted Bristol City Council to write to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Along with the London Assembly, they have called for a new “supermarket” classification in planning law.

 

At present, express supermarkets come under the ‘A1’ classification which can cover any type of retail outlet – a vintage clothes shop, a hairdressing salon, even an undertaker.

 

The impact a new supermarket can have on an area, such as frequent deliveries from heavy goods vehicles, should put Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and the like, in a class of their own, say campaigners.

 

Bristol councillor Alex Woodman said: “What we’re asking the government to do is refine the A1 class so that it distinguishes between, say, small local independent retailers and national chain stores, where the impact on the local area is potentially more significant.”

 

He told BBC Radio 4’s The Report that had his committee known about Tesco’s interest, they would have given more consideration to the potential impact the store would have on the local area.

 

“Because we didn’t know that at the time, the council wasn’t able to consider the impacts and we were in a situation where planning permission was granted without any thought being given to them,” he said.

 

Claire Milne, co-ordinator of the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign, believes Tesco deliberately kept quiet about its intentions.

“We know from various people in the community that Tesco have been looking in this area for at least a few years,” she said.

 

But Tesco’s head of property communications, Michael Kissman, says there was nothing underhand in the way Tesco went about setting up in Stokes Croft.

 

He said the original planning application was put in by the administrators of a comedy club, who were struggling to find someone to take over the property.

 

“They were clear that the purpose of its change of use was to make it more marketable to future occupiers,” he said.

 

Still a comedy club then Mr Kissman?

 

 

Deal…?

 

On 10th October four supermarkets were fined a total of £50 million for price fixing a range of essential household dairy products including milk and cheese. Imagine a cartel of solicitors had tried the same trick with their clients?

 

John Fingleton, Chief Executive of the Office of Fair Trading commented:

 

“This decision sends a strong signal to supermarkets and other businesses that the OFT will take action and impose significant fines where it uncovers anti-competitive behaviour.”

 

The original sum sought was £115 million but the companies involved did a deal with the regulator

 

One wonders if the OFT will cast its eye over the newly emerging legal services providers to determine whether their behaviour flouts competition legislation…

 

Jack Straw aimed a kick at the wrong target when he bemoaned activities of claims companies and lawyers in referral fee investigation.

 

Thus, at a stroke, Djanogly kicked into touch the key finding of Lord Young’s 2010 report on the Compensation Culture (see our other blog posts) i.e. that there is no compensation culture (page 26 of the report) – it is the figment of the popular press’ imagination, aided and abetted by the insurance industry. 

 

 

Mr. Straw, the Labour MP for Blackburn, said the scandal was hitting ‘perfectly law-abiding people’ with sky-high insurance costs…

 

and what about the perfectly law-abiding people who will find their access to justice cut off?

 

Mr. Straw, whose own investigation (bit of a ‘cult of Jack’ going on here) into how even the police are taking tip-fees, prompted the select committee to re-open its earlier enquiry, said: ‘What I am clear about is that of a total of about £9billion premium income, £2billion is costs caused by people who can be accurately be classed as the parasites in the system.

 

How is he clear about this again? Didn’t HE read Lord Young’s report?

 

Mr. Straw told MPs that the previous night, while he was preparing his evidence to the committee, he had been phoned at home by a claims accident company seeking to represent him over an alleged accident  in the last three years: ’I’d not had an accident in the last three years,’ he told MPs.

‘But it shows the relentless pressure inside these very dodgy firms.’

 

Yes Jack, but you like countless others did not claim, nay COULD NOT CLAIM BECAUSE YOU HADN’T HAD AN ACCIDENT – GEDDITT?

 

Mr. Straw added: ‘Claims management companies are parasitic. In any other walk of life, we would describe this racket by referral companies as bribery.

‘These practices are leading to very substantial (insurance) increases on law-abiding motorists.’

 

Jonathan Djanogly said the Government intended to band the ‘merry-go-round’ of referral fees which have sent premiums rocketing.

 

He noted: ‘You only have to turn on daytime TV to see lots of dodgy solicitors’ firms which are part of this racket.’ He said there were two firms of solicitors within 100 yards of his own front door offering ‘£600 for a referral.’

 

Memo to Justice Secretary:

If dodgy solicitors are advertising on tv, then bring them to justice now!! Haven’t you heard about the Advertising Standards Authority?

 

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly told the committee the Government’s decision to ban the ‘merry-go-round’ of referral fees was ‘appropriate’ and had been ‘generally welcomed’.

 

Referral fees were part of the ‘sick, suing culture’ that was keeping premiums artificially high: ‘We want the benefit to feed through to the consumer in the form of lower premiums.’…and fair compensation settlements!!! 

 

He believed the Government’s reforms would bring commons sense to the system by weeding out greedy claims, noting how under the current system: ‘If you are a claimant and have no chance of losing, you are almost crazy not to sue. Why wouldn’t you? That’s what we propose to reverse.’ 

 

This is getting rather tiresome. Will somebody PLEASE tell the UK Justice Minister that an injured person wishing to make a claim has to actually prove negligence? Ye gods – does he think that people claiming compensation just have to ask the insurance companies nicely?

 

Keen to get in on the act, or is it the feeding frenzy, roads Minister Mike Penning condemned the claims firms as ‘ambulance chasers’ noting: ‘As a human being I find it very difficult that any organisation would seek to profit from others’ injury. Yet fifty per cent of claims are personal injury claims.’ 

 

This comment is about as crass and unthinking as it is possible to get, even for a government minister.

 

Critics say soaring premiums are tempting some to drive uninsured – with an estimated 1.3 million drivers now on the road without insurance.

 

A word anyone about insurance company profit margins or their active participation in and encouragement of referral payment schemes?

 

MPs on the Transport select committee report have already condemned the current system as ‘dysfunctional’. We take it they mean the claiming ‘thing’ and not Mr. Djanogly’s department…although that story isn’t over yet, not by a long way.

 

Paul Evans, chief executive of insurance company AXA UK, said increases had slowed to about a 1 to 2% rise a month but added:’ we shall continue to see continuing increases in the months to come

 

aye right enough, as he squeezes every ounce of profit out of claimants before his game is rumbled by a myopic government and an enraged public who aren’t as gullible as he thinks.

‘Caveat emptor’ – what next for access to justice in the UK now that the sale of law firms has started?

What price justice? What price fairness? What price independent legal advice?

 

Perhaps a better question is what value should we place on qualified legal advice delivered by independent, professionally qualified and rigorously (in this country at least) regulated solicitors.

 

We think it’s a question worth asking because the legal services market in the UK is on the threshold of a major shake up, the ramifications of which can only be guessed at…but actually we don’t need to guess, because the future of legal services is currently being shaped by a few key players in the US.

  

Attention all UK solicitors:

  

Legalzoom, the nemesis of US law firms  and Rocket Lawyer, have a lot of money, a lot of entrepreneurial flair and a lot of ambition. They are coming to a market near us soon.

 

They are going to ‘eat our lunch’ and it ain’t gonna be pretty, no siree Bob.

 

Make no mistake – they have no qualms whatsoever (and why should they?) about carving themselves a nice slice of the UK legal services market. 

 

So who should care?

 

Solicitors, obviously…but who really cares about solicitors other than other solicitors?

 

Actually our clients do, that’s who…and here’s why.

 

If independent solicitors wither on the vine and die off, then access to justice will be the real casualty and the British public will be the real victims – not the beneficiaries….caveat emptor!! 

 

Before it’s too late, independent solicitors need to get on the front foot and fast on this issue. If the British public isn’t to be hoodwinked into believing that the brave new world of ‘anyone can do legal stuff’ is a good thing, solicitors, the people with the knowledge and the tradition of ethical, professional service – ABSOLUTELY MUST GET THEIR MESSAGE ACROSS.

 

…and as for the anticipated legal services invasion from across the pond; well, ‘grow a pair’ and prepare to fight for survival.

 

Nobody owes us a living but we owe it to our clients to stay in business and defend their legal rights.

 

What price strategies for the survival and growth of independent solicitors?

 

We think that developing a new way of thinking about the business of being in business as a lawyer is the only alternative to Alternative Business Structures…

 

We intend to be around for a long time yet and we hope you do too.