The Scottish Law Agents Society has been opposed to ABS ever since it was first mooted in the 1990s. Indeed, possibly the largest vote ever raised at a Law Society general meeting supported the SLAS position in opposition to ABS at a general meeting in 2010. However, not all lawyers are opposed to ABS. Least of all the 20 equity partners of Messrs Russell Jones & Walker the personal injury solicitors in England who have sold out to an Australian law company, Messrs Slater & Gordon, at a price of £54m, bringing a £2m plus cash benefit to each of the equity partners (Times 31st January 2012). The transaction is dependent upon approval by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority but, in the current climate in which cash has clearly taken control, one cannot doubt that that approval will be easily forthcoming. Messrs Russell Jones & Walker, currently sitting on the wrong side of bank debt in excess of £10m will be relieved of that encumbrance and receive a healthy cash injection on top. One wonders whether that position and outlook is entirely different to the position and outlook enjoyed by certain supporters of the instigation of ABS in Scotland and hopes that none of the employed solicitors who might have voted in favour of ABS will be disappointed with the outcome.
Messrs Slater & Gordon, from down under, are already listed on the Australian stock exchange and are expected to pursue a dual listing on the London stock exchange. They have previously acquired approximately 20 competitor firms in Australia and will no doubt pursue a similar policy in the UK. This could be good news for equity partners, particularly those approaching retiral but whose firms are currently burdened with bank debt. Views are invited, however, as to the likely effect on non equity partners, other legal and non legal staff, clients and the public interest in the independence of the legal profession.
Personal injury litigants who previously had to support the legal profession will now be expected in addition to repay that £54 million to Messrs Slater and Gordon, with interest, and also to fund a suitable rate of dividend to multi national investors. How unfortunate it would be if the rate of personal injury upon which Messrs. Slater and Gordon have calculated their returns were to reduce to any substantial extent.