US retail giant Walmart, which owns UK supermarket chain Asda, has taken its first tentative steps into legal services by inviting a law firm to offer will-writing to shoppers.
The Toronto Star reports this week that fixed-fee provider Axess Law has opened its own outlet near the entrance of a new Walmart in the city.
The firm, which operates seven days a week until 8pm, promises simple wills for $99 (around £53.50), with notarised documents from $25 (around £13.50).
Founders Lena Koke (pictured, right) and Mark Morris (pictured, left) have pledged to open another three outlets in Walmart stores in Toronto by the summer, with further additions in the state of Ontario by 2016 and the rest of Canada by 2018.
‘A lot of people are intimidated by lawyers. This is a non-intimidating setting,’ Koke told the newspaper.
The lawyers say evenings and weekends are their busiest times, with Morris adding: ‘That’s when most lawyers have shut down their operations – that’s when we fly.’
The Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates legal services in Ontario, is currently consulting on different models of non-lawyer ownership, including alternative business structures.
Their proposed models include allowing non-law firms to offer legal services and to wholly own law firms – which could in theory allow a company such as Walmart an entry route into the profession.
Law Society treasurer Thomas G Conway said at the start of the consultation that ABSs could provide ‘more options and choices for consumers, thereby improving access to justice’.
Walmart is ranked by the Fortune Global 500 list as the world’s largest public corporation, with more than 2m employees.
But it is unlikely to have the opportunity to offer legal services in the US in the near future, with the American Bar Association model rules of professional conduct – the direct basis for professional conduct rules in every state except California – not permitting non-lawyer ownership.
In 2011, QualitySolicitors announced it would open staffed ‘access points’ in up to 500 WH Smith stores in the UK, but ended the deal last summer.