While large firms operating in the United Kingdom are still only considering the idea of external investment, legal service providers in other segments of the legal market are jumping in to take advantage of the U.K. reform that went into effect October 2011.
U.S. companies LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer recently entered the U.K. market via the Legal Services Act, which allows law firms to seek external investment from nonlawyers—whether private equity or public companies—and to accept professionals from other disciplines, like accountants, into their practices by creating “alternative business structures” (ABS).
Both companies rely on websites that enable consumers—individuals or small businesses—to create legal documents online, ranging from wills and divorces to company incorporations and contracts. Users can also opt to get more specific legal advice from attorneys affiliated with each site, and can sign up for annual, subscription-based plans.
Glendale, California–based LegalZoom made its move into the U.K. in September 2012, when it announced a deal with Quality Solicitors, a network of independent U.K. law firms that has significant advertising, marketing, and purchasing power. The deal gives LegalZoom access to over 400 Quality Solicitors branches across England and Wales, as well as 150 “Legal Access Points” offering basic information in stores of the ubiquitous newsagent WHSmith. In return, firms in the Quality Solicitors network gain access to LegalZoom’s clients and will be available to review completed documents and provide legal advice.
“Consumers [in the U.S.] and abroad find the legal system expensive, intimidating, and unresponsive. As legal services become more accessible, we believe that there will be a correlating increase in demand for legal services by small businesses and families,” says Edward Hartman, LegalZoom’s president of attorney service.
LegalZoom’s competitor, San Francisco–based Rocket Lawyer, is set to launch a U.K. subsidiary by the end of 2012. Thus far, Rocket Lawyer has signed on 20 affiliated U.K.–based law firms, including Simpson Sissons & Brooke, for its referral service. “The only financial arrangement we have with these firms is that their on-call lawyers provide a discount on their fees to Rocket Lawyer clients and, in exchange, we deliver qualified users,” says Charley Moore, Rocket Lawyer’s founder and chair.