As easy as ABS

As George Papandreou sent the eurozone into a frenzy last week, the news closer to home was hardly less bleak.

Okay, so the fact that Slaughters has slashed trainee bonuses and frozen associate pay bands isn’t going to move markets, but the message is clear: times are tough.

It’s a bit of a theme this week. While no one’s going to weep for a £38,000-a-year graduate whose bonus has just been cut, the economic ripple effect at the opposite end of the profession is rather more sobering. With legal aid all but unattainable and no-win, no-fee being reformed beyond recognition, accessing legal services has never been more difficult. The impact on the high street is astounding.

But from the turmoil comes new ideas. Turn to pages 5 and 7 of this week’s issue for evidence of legal providers innovating in the face of an ever-more cash-constrained client base. The introduction of ABSs could not be more timely, as the Co-op has proved with its plan to target “the most underserved group” of clients with its low-cost family advice.

Mills & Reeve, meanwhile, is responding to the new ­challenges ABSs will bring by engaging the services of a psychiatrist to ensure its family advice fits the
bill – and its bills fit the families.

Talk about survival of the fittest.

But what’s all this got to do with commercial firms? Nothing, right? Wrong. The genius thing about evolution is that it affects us all, even if we’re not aware of it.

As legalfutures editor Neil Rose points out in this week’s feature (page 14), with DLA Piper throwing its weight – and its cash – behind ABS-in-waiting LawVest, the notion that the legal elite can ignore the upstarts has been scotched once and for all.

Don’t expect Slaughters to follow suit, but many will. There will even be a China-controlled ABS in the near future if former Bird & Bird partner Stephen Kines gets his way. Having left the firm in August, Kines, who set up 2Birds’ Eastern Europe operations, now runs a business whose sole aim is to find an Indian or Chinese firm to buy a share of a UK ABS.

If he pulls it off – and with a €5m price tag the stakes are high – the effect really could be market moving.;