Optima – law firm in disguise

If any group of professionals is likely to understand the technicalities of the law, it’s a fair bet to assume it would be lawyers.

Not so over at Optima, apparently. The firm has just had its knuckles rapped – well, brushed – after jumping the gun somewhat over the introduction of the Legal Services Act.

The act has been the subject of the day among the more expansionist firms for as long as anyone can remember, but it doesn’t actually pass into law until next October (at the earliest, though you might want to put in a call to Tory HQ for the coalition’s latest plans). Until that special day comes, accepting outside investment to fund your own empire-building agenda is still a bit of a no-no.

So when the Solicitors Regulation Authority discovered that Optima was receiving loans from outsourcing provider Capita in return for share options (see story), it acted swiftly and decisively and launched a three-year investigation, culminating in ’a reprimand’ for two partners and an order to repay the money.

Meanwhile, Optima has been practising how to operate an alternative business structure for at least four years before it will be legal to do so.
The SRA says it’s “a stark warning” before adding that those who ignore it “do so at their peril”.

You can hear those boots quaking across the City.