Turnover remained flat and profits were down this year for the Co-op’s legal services business – despite a jump in divorce and wills work apparently due the Covid-19 pandemic.
Half-year results published by the retailer, covering the six months to 24 July, showed that underlying profits for Co-op Legal Services were down from £3m to £2m, with turnover unchanged at £19m.
Revenues are likely to have been hit by the downturn in personal injury and conveyancing work during lockdown. However work from other areas increased, with will writing services up by 69% and divorce-related enquiries rising 300%.
Co-op said its legal business ‘performed well despite the impacts of lockdown’ and had responded encouragingly to the challenges posed in the first half of the year.
The Co-op’s half-year report noted: ‘Our legal services business experienced an early increase in will writing work at the start of the pandemic, and then above average inquiries about divorce as the strains on family relationships created by lockdown began to show themselves.’
The report said that online consultations with its legal advisers were already growing before Covid-19 but the experience of the pandemic is likely to increase that trend.
Relatively downbeat financial results are in contrast with how the company was reporting the success of its legal services division in April: full-year results for 2019 had shown a 165% growth in profits to £6.1m, with turnover of £40.1m.
Interest from the legal profession in the Co-op’s performance has remained high since 2012 when it was one of the first three applicants – and the first major retailer – to be authorised as an alternative business structure under the Legal Services Act.
Fortunes have been mixed since then, with the group admitting it had been over-ambitious in its early years but appearing to turn things around with a greater focus on probate and estate planning.
Overall, revenues for the Co-op group were up 7.6%, driven by ‘exceptional’ food and wholesale performances, with group profit before tax up 35% at £27m.