Premier Property Lawyers has become the first alternative business structure (ABS) in the U.K. as outside investment in law firms brought about through the Legal Services Act (LSA) became possible from Oct. 6.
The Leicester-based firm, a wholly owned subsidiary of conveyancing services provider myhomemove, has been awarded its license by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) -- the only regulator approved to license ABSs to date.
The news comes as Oxfordshire-based firm Everyman Legal announced Thursday that it intends to become the first U.K. solicitors' practice to seek a stock market admission.
Everyman launched four years ago and combines a regional network of partner firms specializing in providing legal advice to entrepreneurs with the sale of online templates and information.
ABSs are intended to give consumers a wider choice of legal services by allowing law firms to take external investment and be owned by nonlawyers for the first time, meaning companies can run their own legal arms.
While the CLC has received its license to regulate ABSs, most law firms wishing to convert face further delays, as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is still yet to be approved by Parliament as the main licensor and regulator of ABSs.
The SRA hopes to be able to license the first ABSs in January 2012, with consumer-owned conglomerate Co-op expected to become the first major company to convert, while Irwin Mitchell is among the U.K. law firms announcing the intention to convert when permitted.
CLC chief executive Victor Olowe said: "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."
While ABSs are expected to have the greatest impact on high street legal services, the SRA told Legal Week that it has seen a wide variety of aspiring applicants while preparing for their bid to license ABSs, including companies and law firms of a wide variety of sizes.
The other major implication of the LSA implementation to come into effect Thursday is the regulatory shift to outcomes-focused regulation (OFR), which replaces the prescriptive rules-based regulation in place to date.
The shift has seen extensive consultation with the legal profession about the SRA's new handbook for the new Solicitors Code of Conduct, with a number of amendments called for by the profession. The shift has also seen the SRA restructure extensively, carrying out a series of redundancies as well as spending £20 million on a new IT system.
Chief executive Antony Townsend said: "I am pleased with the constructive debate that we have had with the profession leading up to OFR, which has meant the work to get it right has been very productive.
"It is important to note, however, that for us Oct. 6 is the starting point rather the finish line. We now have to demonstrate that we are able to operate the new regulatory system intelligently, as this is the very aim of the approach."