The Co-operative Group today announced its first legal acquisition as it refocuses attention on face-to-face services after a troubled start in the sector. 

The retail giant has bought the Sheffield-based Collective Legal Solution Group for an undisclosed amount. Collective Legal Services, which describes itself as an 'inheritance-planning specialist', says it is regulated by the Society of Will Writers and Estate Planning Practitioners. That body holds itself out as 'a non-profit making self-regulatory organisation which seeks to protect the public’.

The business will initially work separately from the existing Co-operative Legal Services but the two entities will work in conjunction to provide wills, trust and probate services.

Collective has around 100 associates and support colleagues providing face-to-face services across the UK on inheritance-related legal matters.

The Co-op Group has suffered a tumultuous few years, having to restructure to reduce debt levels and selling parts of the business.

Co-operative Legal Services, which was the joint-first alternative business structure to be licensed in 2012, did little to improve the group’s fortunes, posting £5m losses for 2014 and making significant cuts to its personal injury department.

CLS managing director Matt Howells (pictured) has since admitted to the Gazette that the company grew too quickly in its early years.

Howells said today’s announcement shows the Co-op is putting its legal services division ‘at the heart of the rebuild’ – and indicates a different working model for the legal business.

‘We have had a strategic review on the wills and probate business and consumer research tells us the majority of clients value a face-to-face service,’ he said. ‘Our existing service was telephone based and remote. This acquisition enables us to have an alternative channel to market.’

Collective was founded in 2007 and employs agents to visit people over 55 in their own homes to discuss 'inheritence-related legal matters' including wills and lasting powers of attorney. It is expected that Co-op Legal Services will provide back-office support.

Howells said the Co-op wanted an established company with a market share already in place, rather than having to build up a business from scratch.

He said that CLS continues to offer a full range of consumer legal services, but the company is currently reviewing how best to offer services in personal injury and family law.

‘The market is still very fragmented – previously [we were] slightly ambitious but we genuinely believe [with] steady growth in each practice area we can provide consumers with what they want,’ said Howells.

‘We are not making any bold statements about what is possible, we just want to supplement the group purpose.’