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Categorized | Law Updates

Alternative Business Structures

Alternative Business Structures

Soon we will have Tesco Law. On present plans, 6 October is the date on which the first alternative business structures (ABS) will be able to open for business in the legal services marketplace in England and Wales. This will mean that for the first time non-lawyers can fully own and invest in law firms.

An ABS is a firm where a non-lawyer is a manager of the firm, or has an ownership-type interest in the firm. A non-lawyer is defined as a person who is not authorised under the Legal Services Act 2007 to carry out reserved legal activities. A firm may also be an ABS where another body is a manager of the firm, or has an ownership-type interest in the firm and at least 10 per cent of that body is controlled by non-lawyers. Under the proposed rules, ABS are not limited in the services that they can offer to the public.

It has been a long road since Sir David Clementi was appointed to conduct a review of the regulatory framework for legal services in England and Wales. He presented his report in December 2004. One of his terms of reference was:

“To consider what regulatory framework would best promote competition, innovation and the public and consumer interest in an efficient, effective and independent legal sector.

The outcome is ABS. The expressed belief is that ABS will bring benefits to consumers through increased competition, the development of new services and ways of delivering them and the integration of the delivery of legal services with other related services.

Enterprising firms have been positioning themselves to be in pole position when the starting gun is fired. A clear example of what Clementi had in mind is the online conveyancing service set up by Rightmove founder Harry Hill. His In-Deed Online operation allows people buying or selling a home to track the legal process from instruction to completion. The website was launched by Hill, the former chief of estate agents Countrywide, and Peter Gordon, a former partner at private equity group 3i. The firm has signed up two law firms to do the conveyancing work, which will operate under the In-Deed Online brand, and hopes to sign up another two. Their claim is: “Our online system was designed to make conveyancing simple and transparent. You can track every step towards completion online or on your mobile. We tell you what to expect, what we’re doing and what we need from you.” 

As they rightly point out, “You bank online, you shop online. Now you can do your conveyancing online.”
And so we come, finally, to the tipping point for the commercial future of the legal profession. In-deed.net is the tip of the iceberg. The difference is, perhaps for the first time, we now see how non-lawyers will seek to change the way law is practiced in England. The battleground will be online and the future belongs to anyone who uses it well.

Editors note: We don’t normally use the blog to sell ourselves but this is an important exception. Anya Designs has huge experience in both law firms and online commerce. We are probably the only legal software firm in the UK that genuinely understands how law and ecommerce work and when you decide to take the next steps in the new commercial landscape, we would really like to talk to you because a standard web agency may not understand the particular requirements of law firms. Call us on 0845 259 1276 and ask us questions!

This post was written by:

- who has written 2 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with experience both of the prosecution of serious Vat fraud cases and the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. Christina Grzasko has been a managing director of Anya Designs for over ten years after many years of criminal legal representation in Brighton.

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