For many years now lawyers have been predicting the rise of Tesco-Law; the process by which big companies move into the legal sector and take all the business away from high street firms. Lawyers have an unhealthy fascination with Tesco leading the way in all areas, including crime, despite it being fairly obvious that Tesco has spent decades positioning itself as the families friend who is always providing good food and clothes at reasonable prices. After spending all that time and money, I cannot imagine a board meeting where the directors of Tesco all vote to re-position the brand as the burglars friend. Or as the company that helps rapists get that little bit extra. It simply isn't going to happen and thus far Tesco has shown no signs of wanting to get involved in the paltry returns provided by high street law.
There's a big thing at the moment as a big well known company has apparently moved into the legal sector: Eddie Stobart (okay I know he's dead but I don't know the name of the new boss) and his eponymous trucks have launched Stobart Barristers, which aims to put people in touch with direct access barristers - these are barristers who are allowed to act for clients without having a solicitor as a middleman. There's been lots of "I told you so" and "the end is nigh" type comments flying around the legal world at the surprise announcement from Stobarts of this new venture. I hear a rumour that a couple of barristers in Leeds have signed up to them, but beyond that they seem to be somewhat short of barristers.
But among the pronouncements of impending doom that the big companies are finally moving in to squash us little lawyers under their giant corporate jackboot is one small, but very important point... Stobart Barristers isn't a law firm! In fact, there's nothing new about the concept at all.
The customer face of Stobart Barristers is a gentleman called Trevor Howarth. He was previously the office manager for the well known Mr Loophole (who's real name I have temporarily forgotten, which is embarrassing) and was prosecuted, rather unfairly from what I hear, for conspiring with clients to put forward a false defence in a driving case. He was of course acquitted completely.
I have no doubt that Mr Howarth is a valuable manager and is what I believe the Americans call a "rain maker" for his employers. But he isn't a lawyer - at least the Bar Council, Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives all deny knowledge of him. But, that's okay, because Stobart Barristers is not a law firm, it's a marketing and referral business.
These have existed for years. Contact Law have been doing it for years. Civil law firms pay them per case Contact Law refer to them and criminal firms pay a monthly subscription (because referral fees are banned in criminal law). My reading of Stobart Barristers position is that it will be doing pretty much the same thing.
So, will Stobart Barristers change the legal landscape and herald the coming of the four horsemen of the supermarket giants? Probably not unless they change their whole business model and become a law firm employing the barristers directly rather than passing on work for a fee.
Are Tesco any closer to getting involved in providing legal advice? I have been assured by somebody who knows somebody that the directors of Tesco are definitely going to move into high street law. However, I also have a mate who works for Tesco as some kind of international partnership manager who laughed very loudly at the idea and points out that Tesco is working hard to develop its partnership arrangements across the globe and is planning to continue develop that aspect of its business as well as sorting out its domestic problems rather than getting its hands very dirty with its customers divorces. Incidentally, Tesco Plc lists its two prime strategic objectives as "1. To grow our UK core 2. To be an outstanding international retailer in stores and online".
So, in conclusion: Stobart Barristers appears to be absolutely nothing that dozens of others haven't tried before. And, Tesco are not about to start defending rapists, murders and shoplifters.