Chester law practice Oliver & Co has seen a lot of changes in the last 40 years, but none so radical as the impending shake-up of the legal system.
Law firms up and down the country are changing their ownership structure in readiness for the introduction of so-called Tesco law.
From October, high street companies such as the Co-op and WHSmith will be able to start offering services such as will writing and home conveyancing.
As well as making it easier for other types of businesses to offer legal advice, the changes – a result of the Legal Services Act 2007 – will also make it easier for legal firms to merge, or bring in outside investors to compete with the new players.
To plan for the changes, legal firms across the UK are changing from limited liability partnerships (LLPs) to limited companies – putting them on a par with other limited businesses.
Oliver & Co’s head of commercial department, Tim Polding, explains how the organisation is adapting for the future.
“The firm has been around since the mid-sixties providing a wide range of services to individual clients and building a reputation for high quality professional advice in friendly surroundings. The last two years, however, have seen the firm develop out of all recognition from its traditional origins while maintaining that reputation.
“Firstly, in September 2009, the firm diversified by introducing a commercial department for the first time, offering specialist legal services to businesses – ranging from start-ups to groups with turnovers in excess of £200m – and “not for profit” organisations such as charities, professional bodies and educational establishments. The department provides advice, assistance and representation to business clients locally, regionally and nationally and has managed to establish itself firmly on the local business scene despite the difficult economic circumstances.
“In April 2010, in keeping with the more modern approach now required to run a law firm as a business, the partnership incorporated and began trading as a limited company. A progressive move, this has led to a more corporate approach to both day-to-day management and strategic development under the stewardship of directors Kay Cook and David Owen. The success of any change management programme is largely down to having a management team, as in this case, which is committed to a vision, communicates that vision and leads by example.
“The principal driver for the firm’s development over the last three years has been the change to the market place for legal services created by various pieces of legislation from central government, the latest of which will see legal services offered to both the general public and to businesses by alternative business structures to the traditional solicitors’ practice.
“These new entities will be owned or part owned and managed by non-lawyers and will include household names such as banks, insurance companies, motoring organisations and supermarkets, all with strong brand recognition. All but the largest law firms will struggle to compete with the resources and (non-legal) expertise available to the new entrants to the legal services market. Oliver & Co therefore decided last year to meet this challenge by launching as one of the first 50 practices nationwide (and the only one in Chester) to be branded as a “QualitySolicitors” firm. We were selected for this position as a result of positive feedback from satisfied clients across the full range of services which we provide and will only retain it if we maintain those high standards.
“The QualitySolicitors network is now approaching 300 firms across the country and as QualitySolicitors Oliver & Co we have purchasing power, referral opportunities and involvement in marketing and advertising campaigns on a national scale. One example of the early success of this first national brand for legal services in penetrating the market is the national tie up between QualitySolicitors and W H Smith, to provide legal access points at stores across the country, for prospective clients to make initial inquiries or appointments to see a solicitor in circumstances and at a time that is convenient to them.
“The QualitySolicitors ethos is to address the issues of accessibility and certainty of cost which are the two biggest concerns for both individual and business clients. This philosophy matches the traditional values which Oliver & Co has always endeavoured to apply with our clients, as a result of which the transition has been an easy one with the focus being more on promotion of those existing principles:
• First consultation free
• No hidden costs
• Same day response
• Direct lawyer contact
“The latest, though possibly not the last, piece of the jigsaw for QualitySolicitors Oliver & Co has been the recent move to new office accommodation at Douglas House at the end of Foregate Street in the city centre. The steady increase in staff numbers over the last five years and the required scope for further expansion in the future necessitated a move away from the firm’s traditional home in Watergate Street, but the purpose-built offices in a prominent position at Douglas House will provide a permanent base and the perfect springboard for the on-going development of a thoroughly modern legal practice.”
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