News release

ABS - two years of applications

Today (3 January) marks the two-year anniversary of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) accepting applications from firms that want to offer legal services as alternative business structures (ABSs).

ABSs were introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007 and involve lawyers and non-lawyers sharing the management and control of a business which provides reserved legal services and other services to the public. External investment and ownership of law firms are also allowed if the firm is an ABS.

Approval to license ABSs was granted on 23 December 2011 by the Ministry of Justice, and the first applications were accepted 12 days later. There were 30 applications in the first week, and 100 in a little more than a month. The first three licences were awarded on 29 March 2012, and the number of licences now stands at 218.

Antony Townsend, SRA Chief Executive, said: "The innovation we have seen from some of the ABS applicants has been highly impressive and they have taken full advantage of the greater flexibility offered. Numerous firms have seen it not just as an opportunity to adjust their business models, but also to attract external investment to their firm.

"Inevitably, this, greater innovation in the legal services market will be driven to meet consumer needs. This in turn will increase competition in the market, which should lead both to improved outcomes for clients and greater access to justice."

The first licences awarded went to John Welch and Stammers, Co-operative Legal Services and Lawbridge. 74 licences were awarded in the first year, with the list of high-profile approved applicants including Parabis Law, Irwin Mitchell, Lyons Davidson, Russell Jones Walker, Quindell, Abbey Protection Group, New Law, Keoghs LLP and Amelans.

In the light of the early experience, the SRA made improvements to the application process to lessen the administrative burden and reduce waiting times without undermining its robustness, leading to a near doubling in the awarding of licences in 2013 (144).

Firms opting to become ABSs in 2013 included Brilliant Law - founded by BetFair creator Matthew Briggs, Minster Law - acquired by insurance intermediary BGL Group, Keystone Law - which offered revolutionary cloud-based services, Castle Park Solicitors - a community interest company wholly owned by a registered charity, and Kingsley Law, acquired by accident management company Vamco.

BT created BT Law, insurance giant Admiral became involved in two firms, and AFH Legal was formed by a financial services group. Local authorities have also contacted the SRA to explore the opportunity to create law firms using council staff.

View the ABS register.

More information for firms looking to convert to an ABS

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