The news that well-known lawyer Christina Blacklaws (pictured) has left the Co-operative Legal Services, as with other news concerning an unrealised business plan for CLS, will be the occasion for negative comments.
These fall into two contradictory categories: relief that an operation portrayed as a behemoth, set to consume all high street work, has experienced an apparent setback; and comments along the lines of ‘we told you so – what we do is harder than people think’.
If true, the latter line implies larger operations offer no threat. Believe the former, and troubles in the Co-op group alone might allow other lawyers to dodge a bullet.
What is certain is that the fortunes of CLS do not change deep-seated problems in the legal market – margins are small for important categories of work; bank finance is tight; cash is a king in exile; PII is expensive; and clients have a loose grasp on the value that good legal advice adds to their affairs.
At the heart of the CLS business plan is the conviction that society’s unmet legal needs represent a market that could grow. Whatever lawyers’ views on the presence of larger operators in traditional ‘high street’ practice areas, this is a point on which all should hope the Co-op is correct.