Big bang off to a quiet start

Three approved in first wave of ABS conversions

Antony Townsend
Antony Townsend

To some it seemed a long time coming, but last week the SRA approved the first alternative business structures (ABSs): Co-operative Legal Services (CLS), Oxford-based John Welch & Stammers and Kent-based Lawbridge Solicitors.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly heralded the move as a “big bang” for solicitors and a “milestone for UK legal services”, but one retailer and two high street firms endorsed by the SRA is hardly a revolution.

The watchdog said 60 firms were in the process of completing stage two of the application, meaning they are in talks with the regulator about arrangements for conversion.

Firms aiming to convert to ABS first notify the SRA of their ambitions and then receive a form requesting further information.
Criticism that the regulator has been slow to respond to applicants that have chosen to tie up with private equity houses, such as Parabis Law, have been met with consternation by SRA chief executive Antony Townsend.

He said: “We make no apology for ensuring the systems we have in place are thorough and in some cases, time-consuming.”

It is believed CLS was among a handful of firms chosen to pilot the application process in the build-up to the implementation of the Legal Services Act (The Lawyer, 17 January).

The retail giant has long been vocal about its ABS ambitions, establishing CLS in 2006 with a view to converting when the law was enacted. Less of a big bang and more of soft launch.