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Former Institute of Professional Willwriters president sets up ABS

Valerie Shiman, former president and chairman of the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW), has converted her firm into an ABS in the first move of its kind.

28 May 2012

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Parchment Law Group, which opens for business as an LLP this week, has three partners – Shiman, her husband Mike, who is a non-solicitor business and IT manager, and solicitor Helen Whiteley.

Shiman said that although Parchment Law would be regulated by the SRA, and would no longer need to be a member of the IPW, her personal links with the institute would continue.

She said she hoped the IPW would succeed in its bid to become an ABS regulator.

“Choice is important, but the role model we’re creating is something a lot of will-writing firms would benefit from,” she said.

“I have always ran my will-writing practice along the lines of a solicitor’s firm. The opportunity is now here to join forces with an experienced solicitor.

“An ABS is not just about outside investment. It works just as well for a small firm like ours which wanted to be regulated by the SRA. We now have a level playing field with solicitors’ firms.”

Shiman was a member of the legal services consumer panel’s committee on will writing, which made the much-quoted finding that wills written by solicitors were no better in quality than those written by will writers.

“Will writers have been around for 20 years and they’re here to stay,” Shiman said. “Each side of the profession can learn from the other. It should not be a case of them and us.

“Will writers can learn from the professionalism of solicitors. Merging the two together is a good thing.”

The licence obtained by the firm covers probate, litigation and rights of audience.

Its predessor, Parchment Wills and Professional Services, offered advice on trusts and inheritance tax, powers of attorney and elderly clients.

Set up in 1989, it is based in Gerrard’s Cross, and was previously backed by OFT approval under its consumer codes scheme.

Earlier this month, Plainlaw Solicitors, a three-partner Oxfordshire firm specialising in property, housing and construction law, became the sixth ABS to be licensed by the SRA.

“We were early adopters of limited liability partnership status, and were also recently one of the first firms to achieve the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme accreditation,” Philip Horn, the senior partner, said.

“We see our ABS licence as a similar opportunity, as it gives us additional flexibility in terms of structuring our business going forward.”

Horn said the firm’s interest in the concept of ABS was driven more by the potential it offered for the future than by their current circumstances, where the firm was not intending any immediate change.

“Our focus will remain on providing a City of London-style real estate service but at provincial fee rates. We have developed a niche in providing an on-demand real estate support service to other leading law firms, many of whom will themselves be considering the benefits of converting to ABS status.”

It is the third small law firm to be licensed by the SRA after Lawbridge Solicitors in Sidcup and John Welch & Stammers in Witney, Oxfordshire.

The other firms with ABS licences are Co-operative Legal Services, Russell Jones & Walker and NewLaw Solicitors.

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