March 2012 saw the Solicitors Regulation Authority announce its first ‘Alternative Business Structure’ (ABS) in line with the Legal Services Act – an Act of UK Parliament that seeks to liberalise and regulate the market for legal services in England and Wales. An ABS is a regulated organisation which provides legal services and has some form of non-lawyer involvement.
The advent of the ABS generated a great deal of hype back in 2012 and during its run up. It was dubbed ‘Tesco Law’ – even though the grocer has never entered the legal services market – because it was seen as an opportunity to commoditise legal services. There was much speculation that traditional law firms would struggle under the threat of this brave, new world. However, five years on, according to The Law Society, the number of practising firms is still in the region of 10,000 and 75% of SRA-approved ABSs are existing firms.
Accountancy firms, charities, insurers, universities and trade unions are amongst the types of organisation that have successfully registered with the SRA. The move was geared towards improving the legal services market in terms of increased competition, improved standards and the provision of more consumer choice.
Big brands such as the Co-op, the AA and Saga have been linked with the ABS movement, as have John PwC, Capita and John Lewis. Some have thrived some have not. Initially there were great expectations that top 20 firms would float on the stock exchange as a result of the Act allowing non-lawyers to have a stake. However, five years later, most have not ventured this route.
Joanne Hunter, Head of Marketing for Select Legal Systems said, “From our point of view, what we have seen in the last five years is a steady flow of ABS enquiries and orders. However, nothing earth-shattering. What we have seen is evidence of senior law firm execs thinking far more outside-of-the-box than ever before. There seems to be new, inspired thinking in terms of how firms embrace technology, how they structure their fee models and generally how they are becoming more and more flexible to ensure they win and retain business.”
Select Legal Systems Limited is a leading provider of Legal Practice Management Software for law firms. Their flagship product, LAWFUSION, offers modules for managing all aspects of a Legal Practice. The software is designed for law firms but is also suitable for ABSs. For more information about LAWFUSION or Select Legal Systems Limited please call 01482 567601 during office hours. For enquiries outside of normal office hours please use our online form.