LSB chairman: it’s not all about ABS

The chairman of the Legal Services Board said he is “satisfied” at the speed with which it has implemented alternative business structures (ABS) in its first three years.

In the LSB’s annual report for 2011-12, David Edmonds defended his organisation against its critics, saying it is not simply the “ABS Implementation Board” and has a central remit to drive improvements in regulation in the legal sector.

He said it had been a year of “considerable progress”, but took the opportunity to counter “mission creep” and “micro manage” allegations made against the LSB.

Edmonds said: “I believe that both these phrases are wholly incorrect as a description of the work of the LSB.

“Oversight does not mean sitting and watching and reacting. For me, oversight means involvement and intervention, where necessary, and leadership in thinking about new ideas and directions.

“The phrase ‘oversight regulator’ does not appear in the Act. We are a regulator with duties and responsibilities and we interpret those.”

As the LSB moves from its initial three year strategic planning period, Edmonds said the benefits of its approach are visible in the “increasingly robust health” of the legal regulatory infrastructure, including the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

It will now look to ABS licensing authorities to take on the regulatory responsibility.

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: “The Legal Services Board’s oversight and support allows the legal services industry to develop new markets, seek external investment and join up with other businesses through Alternative Business Structures – introducing more competition in the market place – delivering competitive pricing, higher standards of product and more choice for the consumer.

“Since the LSB was established it has played a key role in driving forward legal services reforms and helping UK legal services remain world leading. I am confident that it will continue to do so.”

In April, an interim markets report acknowledged there had been no sweeping changes in the industry since the Legal Services Act 2007 came into force (4 April 2012).

The act was introduced with the aim of improving access to justice, promoting competition, protecting consumers and implementing better regulation.

Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) is one of only a handful of ABS to be given approval so far with the anticipated “big bang’ failing to materialise immediately. (28 March 2012).