Co-operative Legal Services has sought to distance itself from comments reportedly made by its sales and marketing director suggesting that putting the customer first is ‘an alien approach’ for solicitors.

Reporting the launch of the Co-op Legal Services’s multi-million-pound TV and radio advertising campaign, Marketing Week quoted sales and marketing director Ian Mackie as saying: ‘It’s a natural thing for the Co-op to put the customer at the heart of our plans. For a solicitor it’s an alien approach.’

The Law Society invited Mackie to withdraw his comments. In a letter to Marketing Week, chief executive Desmond Hudson said: ‘The Co-op may provide additional choice for consumers, thanks to their powerful brand and the expertise of their employed solicitors.

‘However, in his enthusiasm, Ian Mackie seems to suggest the Co-op have invented client service. They didn't.’

Hudson said: ‘Solicitor firms of many shapes and sizes have been providing excellent service, including in many cases, fixed-price or free initial advice to their clients, for many years. Many also give countless hours of free advice and representation to the most needy in our society.’

He said: ‘Mr Mackie's ignorance of this new area of work for the Co-op may be excusable but bad-mouthing a profession, members of which you employ, isn't going to win credibility in this market (or any other).

‘I invite him to withdraw his comments. He might like to begin to make amends by apologising to every solicitor employed by the Co-op.’

Subsequently, Co-op Legal Services’ chief operating officer, Steven Round, said: ‘The comments are completely wrong and in no way reflect the position of Co-operative Legal Services and we wholeheartedly respect and support the profession.’

He said: ‘We work very closely with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Law Society in an effort to promote and protect the interests of the profession.’

Commenting on the Gazette website, some solicitors suggested that Mackie's comments might put the Co-operative in breach of the solicitors code of conduct.

The SRA said the comments could contravene principle 6, which says that all regulated by the SRA should 'behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services'.

The SRA spokesman said he could not confirm whether it was investigating the matter or taking any action, unless it became a 'disciplinary' issue.

He added: 'We speak to the Co-op all the time as they are one of the high-impact firms that falls under our regulatory management function.'