Co-op puts legal business ‘at heart of rebuild’ with first buy-up

Topics: Alternative business structures,Wills & Probate

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The Co-operative Group today announced its first legal acquisition as it refocuses attention on face-to-face services after a troubled start in the sector. 

The retail giant has bought the Sheffield-based Collective Legal Solution Group for an undisclosed amount. Collective Legal Services, which describes itself as an 'inheritance-planning specialist', says it is regulated by the Society of Will Writers and Estate Planning Practitioners. That body holds itself out as 'a non-profit making self-regulatory organisation which seeks to protect the public’.


The business will initially work separately from the existing Co-operative Legal Services but the two entities will work in conjunction to provide wills, trust and probate services.

Collective has around 100 associates and support colleagues providing face-to-face services across the UK on inheritance-related legal matters.

The Co-op Group has suffered a tumultuous few years, having to restructure to reduce debt levels and selling parts of the business.

Co-operative Legal Services, which was the joint-first alternative business structure to be licensed in 2012, did little to improve the group’s fortunes, posting £5m losses for 2014 and making significant cuts to its personal injury department.

CLS managing director Matt Howells (pictured) has since admitted to the Gazette that the company grew too quickly in its early years.

Howells said today’s announcement shows the Co-op is putting its legal services division ‘at the heart of the rebuild’ – and indicates a different working model for the legal business.

‘We have had a strategic review on the wills and probate business and consumer research tells us the majority of clients value a face-to-face service,’ he said. ‘Our existing service was telephone based and remote. This acquisition enables us to have an alternative channel to market.’

Collective was founded in 2007 and employs agents to visit people over 55 in their own homes to discuss 'inheritence-related legal matters' including wills and lasting powers of attorney. It is expected that Co-op Legal Services will provide back-office support.

Howells said the Co-op wanted an established company with a market share already in place, rather than having to build up a business from scratch.

He said that CLS continues to offer a full range of consumer legal services, but the company is currently reviewing how best to offer services in personal injury and family law.

‘The market is still very fragmented – previously [we were] slightly ambitious but we genuinely believe [with] steady growth in each practice area we can provide consumers with what they want,’ said Howells.

‘We are not making any bold statements about what is possible, we just want to supplement the group purpose.’

Readers' comments (23)

  • Break open the Prosecco - it's a Game-Changer in the New Paradigm, for sure...!

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  • Why do these things have to be announced?

    As in the film Spartacus, it is best to have the victory before holding the Triumph.....

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  • Why would a publication, paid for by solicitors, announce a business model operated by unregulated will-writers? Does the Society of Will Writer and Probate Dabblers, in its bi-monthly newletter, put adverts for the latest high street solicitors' practice that has opened? Maybe stategically placed between "salesman of the month" and "record year for selling pointless trusts to elderly people to avoid care home fees"?

    Didn't think so.

    And why does the article say "regulated by ..."? Surely it means "not regulated by anybody at all, but they pay £50 a year to be a member of a society in as much as and for so long as it suits them".

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  • I think they should buy up Slater and Gordon.

    They have the same ethical approach to the Law (and the SRA wont touch them, even if they do make unsolicited calls on the death of a love one as is only one of the transgressions I could write about).

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  • Perhaps it was a warning to be even more vigilant, Mick C?

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  • Very expensive model to have a face to face sales force when the margins in Wills are so tight anyway.

    Yes, it may help you to build up a long term probate book however it could take many many years to see the return on this investment.

    Odd move by Co-op - not for the first time!

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  • Like Dominic Cooper (11 January 2016 11:29 am) I am troubled by the use of the words "regulated by". It is sloppy journalism (especially in the Gazette of all publications) to refer to the Society of Will Writers as a regulator. They are nothing of the kind in the sense of proper professional regulation and you will find nothing about separation of regulation and representation on their website.

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  • There used to be an adage "Back your Winners. Cut your Losses."
    Of course that was in the good old days when one and one still made two, and when the law was learned profession, and not just another business.
    Fortunately those stuffy old ideas no longer apply and everyone is now free to pursue fools gold at the end of a non existent rainbow.
    The trouble is that although the pile it high, sell it cheap, mentality of the new entrants to the legal sector may ultimately lead them to fail, before doing so they ruin many a sound business unable to compete with their unsound business methods, and when they fail they ruin the careers of many of their employees.

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  • Good to see the Co-op maintaining its high standards
    I trust no solicitors shop there or use any of their other services.

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  • My firm's in Sheffield; and I've never even heard of "Collective Legal Solution Group "! There's a general rule concerning any business that likes words such as 'issues/solutions/[insert anodyne buzzword here]'...

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