SRA has '50 in-depth discussions with potential ABS applicants'

Posted: 12/10/2011

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has had 'in-depth discussions’ with 50 firms and businesses looking at becoming alternative business structures, its chief executive Anthony Townsend told the Gazette last week.

He also confirmed that the SRA hopes to be able to license ABSs 'at the turn of the year’.

Townsend said that in-depth discussions had been with a 'wide variety’ of types of firm, some of which were not law firms.

He added: '[There have been] a few very big players, and the Co-op is the big public one, but others are less public about it.’

The SRA chief added that the regulator has had about 500 general inquiries about becoming an ABS, but he suspected that a large proportion of these would come to nothing.

The Legal Services Act will permit alternative business structures, which may be owned by non-lawyers, from 6 October.

However, ABSs seeking to offer the full range of reserved legal services will not be able to gain an ABS licence until the SRA has been authorised as a licensing authority for the new business model, which Townsend said was expected 'at the turn of the year’.

The Council of Licensed Conveyancers will be able to authorise ABSs seeking to carry out more limited reserved legal activities from October.

The SRA’s authorisation to become an ABS licensing authority was delayed by the need to obtain agreement from the Ministry of Justice in relation to the regulator’s right to examine the spent convictions of potential ABS owners. This has now been resolved.

Delay was also caused by the SRA’s concern to ensure that, where an organisation appeals against an SRA decision not to grant it a licence, the SRA will be able to recover its costs if the appeal is unsuccessful.

Townsend said that as some of the organisations applying for an ABS may be 'extremely large and well funded’, and may have built up high legal costs in seeking an ABS licence, it was important that these costs should not be borne by the profession where the SRA’s decision was upheld on appeal.

The MoJ has now agreed that appeals against SRA licensing decisions will be heard by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, so that costs can be recovered by the regulator when it wins a case.

Meanwhile, Abbey Protection revealed last week that it plans to 'take advantage of the opportunities’ afforded in 'the deregulation of legal services’.

Taken from the Law Society Gazette

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