Firm leaders evenly split over ABS issue

Almost half the managing partners who attended a high-level private summit held by banking group Investec are committed to investigating the use of alternative business structures (ABSs) in their businesses.

Investec handpicked a selection of the heads of leading UK law firms to the meeting, which was held under Chatham House rules, to discuss ways
of embracing the Legal Services Act (LSA).

A poll of attendees revealed that 45 per cent of firms are considering ­setting up ABSs, with 36 per cent looking to become multidisciplinary practices and 18 per cent mulling the legal disciplinary panel route.

Jonathan Harvey of Investec’s specialised private banking division said law firms were still nervous about selling equity to ­external funders.
“There are still a lot of unknowns with external investment because, culturally, it’s a big change for a law firm,” he said. “It may be that new entrants to the market are more ­interested.”

Panellists at the event, which included Berwin Leighton Paisner managing partner Neville Eisenberg, SJ Berwin chief executive Keith Wood and Fox Williams senior partner Tina Williams, also warned against a rush to sell equity in law firms.

They raised the concern that firms could rush to raise finance without a clearly defined business strategy.