CLC to license first ‘ABS’ law firm Premier Property Lawyers

By now we all know that an ABS will allow non-lawyers to own a law firm but today marks a change in how consumers choose to purchase legal services.  Alternative Business Structures have been billed as “the most radical aspect of the Legal Services Act 2007” giving consumers more choice and allowing legal services to be offered alongside related services.
Legal Future’s has today reported that Premier Property Lawyers the conveyancing arm of My Home Move has been authorised by the CLC as the first ABS. For the Legal Future’s article click here.
The CLC, the only Approved Regulator to be designated a Licensing Authority, will also implement their new outcomes-focused regulation today.  The new approach will enhance the protection offered to consumers and also put an end to the ‘box-ticking’ culture.  All regulated bodies are required to:
Act with independence and integrity
Maintain high standards of work
Act in the best interest of clients
Deal with regulators and ombudsmen in an open and cooperative way
Promote ease of access and service
Chief Executive, Victor Olowe, says:
“We have over 20 years’ experience in regulating the licensed conveyancing profession and we will be extending the same rigorous but proportionate approach to the regulation of ABS.  We are very proud to be the first Licensing Authority designated by Parliament to regulate these new business structures.
We believe that ABS is good news for consumers. Opening up the market will offer people a greater choice of legal service provider, while at the same time our new risk-based and outcomes-focussed approach to regulation will help ensure high standards of service and will maximise consumer protection.”
While Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board, Chris Kenny, says:
“The LSB congratulates the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) on becoming able to license Alternative Business Structures (ABS). Today we see the first ABS emerge in the market and this will begin to widen the offer available to consumers of legal services. We look forward to working with the CLC as they continue to consider licence applications.”
On the face of it the changes certainly sound like they are radical but Eddie Goldsmith, Chairman of The Conveyancing Association, doesn’t believe the changes will be radical or overnight, commenting:
“Today isn’t necessarily a big bang moment but it could change the face of our legal services as non-lawyers can now invest in and own law firms. I don’t think we will see a radical change overnight with supermarket law firms popping up but there is an opportunity to transform the way legal services are delivered. We know that when making important decisions such as buying a new home, consumers want an easy-to-access quality and trustworthy service and if the big brands can offer this, the consumer should benefit, as long as the quality of advice isn’t undermined.
For existing high street firms, today’s changes could prove very challenging as there may be increased competition. But providing legal services isn’t the same as selling baked beans. Those currently providing legal services will need to improve the way in which existing services are delivered in order to meet public needs and this can only benefit the consumer.”
I’m not entirely convinced that this will have much of an effect on bigger legal brands but for those high street law firms who rely on passing trade and word of mouth recommendations things will most definitely be changing.  As the "internet youth" become the consumer, taking over from their parents and grandparents, high street law firms will need to have a very strong online presence – word of mouth is no longer talking to your neighbour over the fence, it’s talking to someone on Twitter who lives the other side of the country.
What do you think — will the new breed of consumers be popping to Tesco for more than just bread and milk?
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