The passage of the UK's tradition-altering Legal Services Act of 2007, which sharply limited lawyer self-regulation and opened the ownership of law firms to nonlawyers, was hailed as the dawn of a new age of affordable, consumer-friendly legal services, and derided as the death knell of legal professionalism. Now comes word of the government-forced shutdown of a large Birmingham law firm whose business and marketing plan was awarded "'Most Innovative Marketing Idea 2010." From the Law Society Gazette:
All 250 solicitors and employees of Midlands firm Blakemores, owner of the consumer brand Lawyers2you, were today told to clear their desks and go home after an intervention by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The innovative and fast-growing firm appears to be the latest casualty of a crisis in the personal injury sector. One analyst blamed cashflow problems against the ‘toxic combination’ of legal aid cuts and the shrinking of the PI market.
The SRA said it intervened ‘in order to protect the interests of clients (or former or potential clients), or the interests of the beneficiaries of any trust of which Blakemores Solicitors LDP or any of the partners of Blakemores Solicitors LDP is or was a trustee’. Practising certificates have not been suspended.
Blakemores was founded in 1961 by Roger Blakemore to specialise in property conveyancing. In 2002 managing partner Guy Barnett (pictured) led the firm through a major expansion, which included setting up Lawyers2you stands at more than 20 public-facing sites including airports and shopping centres.
In 2010, Blakemores was awarded the title 'Most Innovative Marketing Idea 2010' by consultancy 360 Legal Group for launching Lawyers2you, one of the UK's first direct consumer legal marketing brands.
Callers to Blakemores today heard just two ringtones before a voicemail prompt invited them to leave a message. An insider told the Gazette that employees were summoned to a meeting mid-morning today, told to get their possessions from their desks and go home.
Staff who asked about redundancy payments were told they would need to claim anything they were owed from the government.
The comments to the Gazette story are well worth a read. Some days it feels lie the UK is conducting a giant experiment for the benefit of the U.S. legal profession, testing what works and doesn't. Today is one of those days. Back to you, Roberts P. Hudson:
No organization of lawyers can long survive which has not for its primary object the protection of the public.
Whether the Legal Services Act offers a better model for protecting the public is still very much up in the air.
HT: ABA Journal