The Co-operative has this week become the first high street bank to offer legal advice to its customers.
The Co-operative Group, the UK's largest mutual business, has begun a pilot scheme to deliver legal advice through three Bristol-based branches of Britannia.
The initiative is being pioneered by The Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) and its sister organisation The Co-operative Financial Services.
Over the next fortnight customers will be offered free legal advice, on a 'drop in' or appointment basis.
The results of the pilot will then be analysed to inform CLS’s future strategy.
The Co-operative Group set up its legal service arm in 2006, with a target of employing 150 people within the next five years, but has grown to employ more than 380 staff, who offer legal help and advice on personal injury claims, will writing, probate and estate administration, conveyancing and employment law.
The group is considering the possibility of acquiring law firms as well as offering legal services through its branches, when the law changes in October 2011 to allow it.
CLS managing director Eddie Ryan said: ‘Later this year the Legal Services Act will radically change the way in which solicitor services are delivered in England and Wales.’
Ryan said the ‘shake-up’ was necessary to make legal services more accessible to customers, many of whom feel that solicitors communicate with them poorly, use confusing jargon and do not understand how services are priced.
He said: ‘We believe that the presence of the Co-operative’s trusted brand in the market place, together with our combination of first class products and services, provides customers with both greater accessibility and better value for money.’
Retail managing director at CFS Rob Bulmer added: ‘There are more than 300 branches of Britannia and The Co-operative Bank across the UK, so this pilot scheme will enable us to assess how legal services can be delivered on the high street.’
‘If successful, there is clearly great potential to bring these services under one roof,’ he said.