Gateley has been granted an ABS licence for its English offices, making it the second top 50 firm to have been awarded one after Irwin Mitchell in 2012.
The firm has made the move in order to bring non-lawyers into the partnership and will begin by making up the head of its finance team Neil Smith before looking at bringing in other heads in departments such as IT and human resources.
It was awarded the licence last Friday (13 December) after making its application January 2013.
Senior partner for England Michael Ward said: “With management of law firms becoming ever more competitive we can see that’s it’s something will will happen more and more and we just felt that was the right thing to do to have flexibility.”
Gateley currently has 150 partners with 131 of those in the equity and boasts an average profit per equity partner of £262,000.
The move to an ABS means the firm could apply for external investment but Ward said that was not currently on the agenda.
”We don’t have any imminent need for outside investment but looking forward next five to ten years there may come a time when that seems appropriate,” he said.
The firm has two separate LLPs for its Scottish and English offices. As ABS licences are still not recognised in Scotland the licence will cover the firm’s offices in Birmingham, Leicester, Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham.
That means non-lawyers from its Edinburgh and Glasgow LLP – where the firm is registered with the Scottish Law Society as HBJ Gateley – cannot be admitted to the firm’s partnership.
Ward said the firm was hoping that the regulatory system would change soon.
“At the moment we have two legal LLPs,” he said, “we have one regulated by the Scottish Law Society and one by the Society in England and Wales and we would like a regulatory framework that’s easier than that. I think it’s not far away.
“If you’re an English-qualified solicitor and want to be a member of an LLP in Scotland you’ve to get Scottish Law Society approval and that’s a cumbersome and expensive process.”
The move comes after Irwin Mitchell became the first top 50 firm to be granted multiple licences for the range of businesses within its structure in 2012 (30 August 2012).
The five licences granted to Irwin Mitchell cover businesses operating within the firm’s group structure including Irwin Mitchell LLP; Ascent Collections Ltd, which offers field agency and debt collection services; Coris UK Ltd, which offers international assistance and insurance claims handling services; and others.
Fellow top 50 firm Weightmans has also applied for an ABS licence to admit non-lawyers to its partnership (29 April 2013).
It is thought that regulatory difficulties connected to the regulatory split between England and Scotland could be behind the called-off merger between Kennedys and Simpson & Marwick announced earlier this month (11 December 2013).