With all the dark talk rumbling around the industry for the last couple of years, you would have thought that ABS was worse than IBS! It’s not – but it has proved to be rather elusive.
It was last October when the Legal Services Act (LSA) came into force, heralding the legalisation of Alternative Business Structures for legal firms, which effectively opened up the market for the first time to significant competition for law firms. For the first time, it allowed legal firms to be owned and run by non-solicitors. It was branded “Tesco’s law” because the fear was that every supermarket would be able to sell you a divorce or conveyancing package as you queued to buy your weekly shop. And what really happened? Absolutely nothing.
In fact, it was only last week that the first three businesses in the UK finally received their licence to operate an ABS from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). One of these was the Co-op which, reports suggest, plans to expand its legal offering from a phone-only service to a network of advisers working though Co-op banks.
So what’s the news here then? Well, on the one hand, I’m not quite sure why it has taken so long for these licences to be issued. I am sure there will be lengthy, detailed explanations and I guess, in the legal sector, we are used to things taking time, but it is not as if no one knew these new rules were coming in.
Two, this huge revolution that had some high street practices quaking in their boots has not washed us all away. I still advocate that this will be a slow burn change and the way to be best equipped is to specialise and focus on going that little bit further in terms of customer service.
Three, the other two licences issued last week went to a small firm in Oxfordshire and a sole trader in Kent who just want to change the way they structure their business. Yes, this change is not all about allowing high street chains into the legal market place but also allowing legal firms to operate in a more businesslike fashion. Lawyers are lawyers, not necessarily business people adept at running a modern practice. Both of the firms these licences went to want non-lawyers to run the office. Sensible and long over due. Nothing to be afraid of.
ABS is not something that encroaches on our professional integrity nor is it beneficial only to supermarkets looking to broaden the range of products they offer. It can be advantageous to us all and help focus our delivery on top class legal services with the customer service to match.