The law of Alternative Business Structures has now come fully into force in England and Wales and was greeted by an article in The Times under the headline – “PERFECT STORM SPELLS THE END FOR THOUSANDS OF SOLICITORS”. The onset of ABS is described as a “seismic” upheaval of Britain’s £14 billion consumer legal market. It is predicted that conveyancing and Wills will be dominated by a handful of multi billion pound providers within a few years because of the Legal Services Act which enables non lawyers to own law firms for the first time. Bear in mind that the Scottish version of ABS is even less restrictive and does not require any solicitors in the ownership of the legal services provider.
Several well known groups, led by the Co-op, have already stated their ambition to build national legal businesses and the article predicts that this will soon develop in to a wave of new competitors who will enter the fray equipped with scale, distribution networks and established customer bases that individual law firms will never be able to match and most of Britain’s ten thousand, four hundred solicitors firms will disappear. This is not so much a prediction as an observation of what happened to the profession of opticians which consolidated after the sector was deregulated to the point that it is now dominated by only a handful of players including Specsavers, Boots and Vision Express.
SLAS Council accepts that ABSs have now been legalised in Scotland and has done sterling work to assist the Law Society in the regulatory and constitution of changes required to enable their inception. Nevertheless, SLAS Council remains diametrically opposed to the principle of non solicitor ownership of legal practices and will be interested in seeing the law reversed if things turn out as badly as described in England and Wales.
The end indeed may be nigh but what shall be done about it ? Suggestions are invited.