The first three firms to be approved as Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) have been announced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority today. Under liberalisations in the Legal Services Act 2007, legal practices for the first time can be owned and managed by non-lawyers.
As expected the Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) are among the three firms. They have been licensed to provide three reserved legal activities: litigation, conveyancing and probate. Headquartered in Bristol, CLS currently employs more than 400 staff delivering personal injury, will writing, probate and estate administration, conveyancing and employment services. Last November CLS announced its intention to enter the family law market when it recruited three leading family lawyers from London-based law firm T V Edwards LLP to launch the service.
CLS have been preparing to launch as an ABS since the Legal Services Act was first drafted. Eddie Ryan, Managing Director of Co-operative Legal Services, said: "We are committed to playing a leading role in this new era by offering straightforward value-for-money expert legal services, backed by an ethos of social responsibility and a level of protection that can be provided by a diverse, multi-billion pound organisation."
The other two firms to be approved as ABSs are Lawbridge Solicitors Ltd, a sole practitioner firm based in Kent and John Welch and Stammers a general practice firm in Witney, Oxfordshire.
The Law Society President John Wotton commented: "The Law Society welcomes this latest development in the legal services market, introducing as it does new ways of working, and increasing choice for consumers and corporate clients. Ownership structure and management are matters for individual firms, but the Law Society will continue to support all solicitors and all practices authorised or licensed by the SRA."
To mark the occasion Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly MP (pictured) visited Co-operative Legal Services in Bristol to talk to staff and customers about the reforms. Commenting, he said: "This is a huge milestone for UK legal services and the future of Alternative Business Structures.
"ABSs introduce more competition in the market place, delivering competitive pricing, higher standards of product and more choice for the consumer.
"Our UK legal services are unrivalled around the world and these changes will allow them to reach new heights, as solicitors' firms develop new markets, seek external investment and join up with other businesses to offer different products to consumers and provide opportunities for growth."