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).

3 responses to “Would You Buy Legal Services From Walmart?”

  1. Jay Pinkert says:

    Firms are already beholden to investors — they’re called partners. I wonder if the public believes that they’re immune to conflicts of interest.

    That argument seems like a canard — which is not to say it won’t prevail in the short term. The question is for long. Non-lawyer participation is the new zeitgeist.

    The truth of the matter is that many people trust big brands and might be more comfortable buying legal services from a known entity rather than a solo or small practitioner they found on the internet.

  2. Wade Coye says:

    Wal-Mart and other chain big-box retailers don’t even have their customers’ best interests at heart when it comes to services, quality of goods, selection, environment for shopping, etc. Hell, I don’t even trust the “beauticians” there. So, what on earth makes people think that there will be no conflict of interest or that the shareholders in these retailers will actually provide efficient and cost-effective legal services? Nothing except perhaps marketing ploys. I’m no expert in the British legal system, but in the process of choosing a lawyer an American can never be too careful to know the lawyer’s experience and background. Convenience is not key here. Personally, I’m very wary of anything which promises to deliver the same standard of care to their client services offered as their post-holiday return policy: we’ll take anything and give you credit for it so you have no choice but to return again.

    • Jay Pinkert says:

      In areas like family law and small business/transactional practices, we’re entering the age of “good enough” law, which is driven by consumer sentiment. Non-lawyer firms see an opportunity; they’re not creating the underlying demand.

      So much of “access to justice” is focused on the poor, yet lower middle and middle class Americans find themselves priced out of legal services and are looking for alternatives. Big brands understand how to speak to “value shoppers.” It might be a “marketing ploy,” but lawyers would be well served to study and learn from these competitors — whether to emulate or to counter-program.

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