A new law affecting England and Wales allows non-lawyers to sell legal services. Joining an existing law in Scotland, the new Legal Services Act permits banks and supermarkets to compete with traditional legal services, leading critics to dub the act the “Tesco Law” after the massive English retailer. Is this the beginning of a major shift in legal practice? Let’s take a look:
Recently, a law firm in the New York City area sued to allow non-lawyers to own a stake in law firms. In their reply, the states target by the lawsuit voiced strong concern over “conflicts that would arise when a firm becomes beholden to its investors.” In that same vein, would the shareholders of a Walmart or Rite-Aid have undue influence over the quality of legal services provided? Target already has medical clinics in some of its stores, providing care from nurse practitioners or physician assistants instead of doctors, could English retailers create a legal variant? These scenarios bring up a number of practical and ethical questions.
The purported goal is to allow legal services become more accessible, efficient and competitive. This may make sense in the UK, but does it in the United State? Sure, there are questions of accessibility in America, but they’re on a socioeconomic basis that may not be addressed by a “Kmart Legal Services.” There certainly isn’t a lack of competition—it’s doubtful anyone’s resorted to a badly drawn squirrel in a British law firm commercial.
So far, a large majority of English readers find the idea unappealing (but never underestimate the impact of advertising).