Much discussed and hotly debated, alternative business structures have finally arrived in the UK. Hailed as a “landmark” in the provision of legal services by the UK Government, the first ABS was registered on the same day last week that the provisons of the Legal Services Act came into force south of the border – the conveyancing services provider, Premier Property Lawyers, under the regulation of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. On the same day, Everyman Legal – a network of solicitors who typically work from home – announced plans to float on the stock market after they can apply to be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Given that, at this stage, the reform applied only to England & Wales, and also because the SRA has yet to be authorised as a regulator, last week’s changes attracted less attention among the Scottish legal profession. But developments south of the border continue to have a bearing on our own reform process.
The timetable for the full implementation of ABSs and new regulatory systems has slipped on both sides of the border. The SRA had hoped to be in a position to regulate ABSs from their start date. However, a change in legislation is needed, meaning they will be unable to do so until early in the New Year. In Scotland, it is taking longer than expected for the Scottish Government to produce regulations and guidance for approved regulators. The result is that our first ABSs – licensed providers of legal services – are unlikely to emerge until late summer next year.
The Society is working hard to put together a regulatory model so that it can apply to become an approved regulator and has already drafted a handbook that we are keen to share with firms interested in seeking ABS status. We are determined to use the additional time constructively – just as many firms are taking the opportunity to explore their business options – in preparation for such a significant reform of the marketplace. Equally, we are aware that further slippage could lead to Scotland falling behind competitors south of the border and losing market share. The Society will do all it can to keep momentum behind any changes that provide our members with the opportunity to maintain and grow their market.Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland