“Legal advice is a hygiene factor” – ABS owned by insurance giant Markel unveils new online offering

For LHS Solicitors, which is owned by insurance giant Markel Corporation and this week officially relaunched its legal services offering under the banner ‘real law, made easy’, its new £50 online quick review service is very much just the beginning.
LHS, which employs 120 staff across London, Croydon and Manchester, now offers clients the ability to upload their documents online and receive a call back within two hours from a solicitor offering thirty minutes of legal advice.
However, the firm, which was previously owned by Abbey Protection and posted revenues of $14m in 2014, will also within the next few months formally open up its extensive ‘DIY’ repository of precedents and contracts to its entire client base on a subscription or pay-as-you go basis. Called ‘elXtr’, this repository has previously been available to a closed community of trade association clients, for which LHS provides legal services and free legal advice helplines to members under a model adapted from the insurance sector.
Speaking to Legal IT Insider, director of business legal services Merlie Calvert, who joined LHS in March 2015 in order to help spearhead the firm’s new legal services offering, said: “elXtr has been in place for a while and available to a closed community of trade associations for which we act, such as the Federation of Small Businesses. It’s a self-help, DIY repository of precedents, letters, handbooks and anything you want and need in place to run your business, supported by a 24/7 helpline if you need it.”
A further planned online offering, 1stDraftNow, will, within the next nine months, see the firm’s legal advisers complete contracts and documents for clients via remote access, while taking instructions over the telephone.
Calvert said: “If you’re a client you may think ‘I want a contract but it will be expensive and take weeks and the lawyer will want to review it at a time that is really inconvenient.’ We can do it with you over the phone, remotely, so you can take it away and negotiate it if you wish and come back if you wish. It’s not rocket science. The consumer and retail sectors do it very effectively but for our industry it’s a very different tool.”
She adds: “Clients want the same kind of instantaneous and empowering experience that they get from their bank, where they don’t have to be at their desk but can access services any time, anywhere and on their terms.
“Our mission is to deliver ‘real law, made easy’ and it’s something we take seriously. The ability to give legal advice is a hygiene factor that clients just expect – and why shouldn’t they expect you to be able to do your job? We provide legal advice but make it easy to understand.”
Changes that have already been rolled out within LHS and were announced this week include a complete overhaul of the firm’s website. Calvert said: “We’ve turned the website inside out. Most law firms start with ‘all about us’ and talk about their millions of transactions that bring clients no closer to an answer to their problem. We bring the solution to forefront and immediately ask what the problem is before providing the information the client needs.”
Clients that don’t need formal legal advice will be directed to guidance and resources freely available on the website, where the focus has been to make it as comprehensive as possible. Calvert said: “You don’t read a newspaper and think ‘I don’t get it.’ Like good journalism, our advice should be easy to digest and apply.”
She adds: “We don’t encourage clients to spend money when they can do it themselves.”
Calvert, who was brought in by LHS’ managing director Richard Candy in March 2015, was formerly head of legal services in the Northern Hemisphere for De Beers. She later took on the role of commercial director within De Beers group marketing, before joining Mayer Brown in an ‘of counsel’ role between June 2012 and February 2015. Explaining her drive for change, Calvert said: “It stems from the frustration of working in industries where law is an encumbrance. In private practice, you are supposed to start with what the law says but in sales and marketing that’s not viable, the client just needs a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It’s about giving simpler and more concise advice to help clients stay legally compliant.”
Speaking after this week’s launch, Candy said: “During the next five years, the legal market will move towards a retail-style, consumer driven approach to the delivery of more convenient legal solutions for businesses. We’re proud to be pioneers and we’re excited to be leading the way.”