Across the pond in the UK, there’s growing anticipation over the possibility of legal services coming to a supermarket near you as the 2011 effective date of the Legal Services Act draws near. Passed by the UK Parliament in 2007, the Legal Services Act permits non-lawyer entities, like banks or supermarkets, to manage or own law firms, hence the statute’s nickname, Tesco Law.
I got to thinking about Tesco Law earlier this week when I came across thisWashington Post story about retailer Sears’ plans to lease or sell space within its stores. Leasing to professional service providers is not without precedent; the article notes that H&R Block currently rents space from Sears for tax preparation stands. Moreover, Sears is apparently willing to consider a variety of proposals for space:
A Sears spokesperson, Kim Freely, said the company had been seeking lease agreements for years but that it was receiving more and highly varied responses with its increased push for tenants. “Somebody might come to us and say we want to rent a kiosk for 400 square feet and somebody else might want to lease half the store,” she said.
So does renting space for a law firm kiosk or legal-services-to-go within a Sears make sense? I can see pros and cons. On the plus side, because Sears is a long established retail shop, it likely has ample data on the demographics and shopping patterns of customers. My own cursory search online turned up deals between Sears and a maternity clothing line, as well as efforts (albeit dated) to target the Hispanic population. Thus, a lawyer could focus on services designed to attract a particular demographic. In addition, because department stores are heavily trafficked on weekends and evenings, an on site legal services kiosk might capture consumers who otherwise can’t take time off from work to hire a lawyer. Even better, if the Sears anchors a larger shopping mall, a kiosk legal services provider could target other mall employees as well.
On the con side, most consumers don’t shop in Sears as frequently as they do in a supermarket, so it might take several visits just to take note of a law firm on the premises. Moreover, just like the demographic of customers who frequent H&R Block, most potential clients of a Sears based firm would be more interested in lower cost, consumer services – such as basic wills, family law, consumer credit and bankruptcy, employment matters and possibly immigration. Still, if the cost of the kiosk were affordable – or could be shared by several attorneys and structured as a for-fee clinic, it could provide lawyers with good visibility.
So, if you’re in the market for ways to expand or diversify your firm’s offerings, you might want to consider shopping for office space at Sears.
Related posts: Lee Rosen of Divorce Discourse posted last week on How to Thrive as a Commodities Practice. A commodities practice might fit with a Sears or supermarket based law office, provided that the location could generate the volume of traffic necessary to sustain a stand alone commodities practice. From my perspective, a hybrid business model: part commodities, part high end, bespoke services represents the best of both worlds.