ABS team ready and waiting
3 January 2012
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) today (Tuesday, 3 January 2012) begins accepting applications from organisations wanting to be licensed as alternative business structures (ABS).
Over two years of intensive discussions, consultations and preparation have taken place to ensure that the SRA has everything in place to regulate ABS. So the SRA's ABS team will see all their preparation come to good use as it puts its newly-developed systems to work. The SRA was officially designated to accept applications from 23 December 2011, but as this was so close to Christmas, it announced the application process would open 3 January.
Ann Morgan, who manages the ABS team, said: "We've had to consider all the time that these organisations, as their name suggests, are very different from traditional law firms. And ultimately, they could be as different from each other as they are from regular practices.
"One size doesn't fit all, so we'll have to assess each application on its merits. And while the preparation work has been very comprehensive, we will need to remain flexible in our approach to deal with these new firms."
The team was put together drawing on the relevant expertise already existing within the SRA. This included officers experienced in supervision, authorisation and identifying risks. The process begins with applicant organisations completing an online expression of interest form, which they will then submit to the SRA. The ABS team will then assess the information received and create a bespoke application pack for that organisation. The bespoke pack comprises specific additional forms to gather information depending on the size and nature of the organisation.
But even then, the assessment phase isn't over. Ann Morgan added: "The bespoke forms are necessarily very detailed and aim to obtain significant amounts of information from the applicants. It stands to reason that this search for information will draw out further questions that we might need to ask.
"If we have to engage in further dialogue with firms, they shouldn't worry or think they've done anything wrong. It's probably going to be standard practice for everyone.
"What we do know is that we have to be rigorous and robust - as robust as we are with traditional law firms. For example, we'll be asking for the employment history of everyone going back five years - we need to have detailed information relating to those who want to be regulated by us."
Once all the necessary information is in place, then the SRA can look at the fee that needs to be charged for application, then assess the information for approval. The fee will be dependent on the complexity of the application and is designed to be fair, relating only to the costs of authorisation. A further fee to cover the costs of regulating the licensed body will be payable once the SRA makes the decision to authorise. Part of the fee assessment involves a flat fee of £2,000, and a further £150 for every candidate that goes through the process. No fees are asked for until the SRA receives the bespoke application form.
The normal approval period will take up to six months from the date of receiving a complete application, although if required, the SRA can grant an extension of an additional three months so further checks can be carried out. If this happens, the SRA is required to tell applicants in writing.
Depending on the complexity of the application, some decisions will be made much quicker than this. All decisions on approving an organisation to be regulated as an ABS will be taken by a member of the SRA's Senior Management Team. Any appeals against ABS decisions will be managed internally by the SRA in the first instance. If a resolution is still not found, then the appeal will be heard by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Those wanting further information should go to the ABS section of this website.