In 2013 the Law Society’s then CEO ticked off a senior Co-op Legal executive for reportedly declaring that putting the customer first was ‘alien’ to solicitors. ‘The Co-op did not invent client service,’ Desmond Hudson retorted.
Co-op Legal’s hubris, if it can be so described, was swiftly followed by nemesis. The legal business posted total operating losses over a two-year period amounting to a bruising £14m, as the group reeled from the ‘group contagion’ which the SRA acknowledged at the time can afflict complex structures.
Like another poster child of market liberalisation, QualitySolicitors, Co-op Legal later acknowledged it grew too fast. And it has certainly learned the value of humility. There is no more excited talk of employing one in 50 of all solicitors or a 3,000-strong team providing a one-stop shop from cradle to grave.
Instead a more modest and considered strategy is at last yielding a Co-op ‘divi’ – albeit a relatively modest one. ‘It’s not that we don’t have ambition, just realistic ambition,’ as the managing director puts it.
So it is that Co-op Legal remains a minor player. By turnover, it does not even make the top 100. But the firm is making money again and targeting growth, and for that the current management surely deserves some credit.
Co-op Legal’s journey from this point on may be less luridly compelling than the tortured odyssey of the last three years, but it will still be worth tracking.