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The Law Society has narrowly voted to relax the strict regulations governing law firms' names in a move critics say will make the profession look foolish.
In a set of radical measures the Law Society is proposing to let firms:
use non-conventional names such as "the Legal Clinic";
use names made up of letters like "AAA Law Services";
have geographical references in their names, such as "Guildford Solicitors";
use titles that include a field of practice. For example, "Smith & Co Conveyancers";
allow firms to adopt fictional titles such as "Wild Bill Hickok Equine Law Consultancy" or a name that is invented or selected at will.
However, under draft regulations, accountancy firms hoping to capitalise on their association with law firms will not be able to name firms after themselves.
The vote to push for the liberalisation of firm names was won by 30-27 at last Thursday's Law Society council meeting and officials are now working on a final draft of the regulations to be voted on in December.
During a heated debate on the issue, Law Society council member Edward Nally warned against changing the status quo.
"I think we will be made to look foolish if we make these changes," he said.
Another council member, Roger Wilson, added: "I really cannot see why we would want to be going down this strange route."
But Angus Andrew, a partner at Osborne Clarke, said: "People should be allowed to have brand names if that is what they want."
The Family Law Consortium's founding partner Gillian Bishop said that solicitors should be trusted to create names that would not bring the profession into disrepute.
She said that her firm's title had proved to be "very successful" since the Law Society gave it a waiver in 1995.
However, the firm still has to put its original name, Hodson Bishop Robinson, on its stationery.
The profession itself also appears to be divided on whether to allow firms a free rein with their names. Just under 3,000 senior solicitors replied to a recent consultation on the issue with a 604 majority backing liberalisation.
The current rules regulating solicitors' names were drawn up in 1967.