The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced that it has licensed its first three alternative business structures (ABS).
The trio comprises Co-operative Legal Services, John Welch and Stammers, and Lawbridge Solicitors Limited.
An ABS is a business providing regulated reserved legal activities but which has either, or both, non-lawyer owners and managers. Traditionally law firms have had to be owned and managed only by lawyers.
The non-lawyer ownership and management of legal services providers – under the Legal Services Act 2007 – was one of a significant raft of reforms designed to liberalise the regulation and provision of legal services in England and Wales. The SRA hopes that these reforms will increase competition and provide consumers with greater choice and access to legal and related services.
Antony Townsend, SRA Chief Executive, said: ‘We’re delighted to announce the first ABS organisations. This represents a milestone we have been working towards for nearly two years.
‘The arrival of ABS should foster a more flexible and innovative market for legal services. By stimulating competition and encouraging innovation, we should see consumers’ experiences enjoy a major boost.
‘Some people may be surprised that there are two high street practices with a handful of staff among the first wave of ABS organisations that we’ve authorised. But we’ve always said that ABS offers options for all firms, not just large organisations.
‘We’ve had to create a system of authorisation flexible enough to deal with a range of companies with hugely varying corporate structures, but that’s also robust enough to apply the same stringent suitability criteria by which traditional firms are judged. We make no apology for ensuring that the systems we have in place are thorough and in some cases, time-consuming.’
Jonathan Djanogly MP, Justice Minister, added: ‘This is a huge milestone for UK legal services and the future of Alternative Business Structures. ABSs introduce more competition in the market place, delivering competitive pricing, higher standards of product and more choice for the consumer.’