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SRA expects 20 applications for ABS status

5 December 2011

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is expecting 20 organisations to apply for alternative business structure status when the regulator begins licensing ABSs on 3 January 2012, Solicitors Journal has learned. The first licences are due to be awarded six weeks later, in the second half of February.

Chief executive Antony Townsend said the SRA had received 50 expressions of interest, 15 from organisations that had a clear intention of taking advantage of the new model.

Townsend told Solicitors Journal the ABS team at the SRA was preparing for a slightly higher number in case the reality of the situation prompted more applicants to come forward.

He said the regulator had approaches from a wide range of organisations, “from large retailers to smaller outfits” before adding: “It shows that ABSs isn’t just for big organisations but can also be relevant for high street firms.”

Some organisations have openly stated they would seek to become ABSs at the earliest opportunity. At the top of the list is The Co-op, which started a legal services division in 2006, when the Legal Services Act was still only a bill.

And last month, legal expenses insurance DAS made its intentions clear and bought up online legal services company Everything Legal, which runs the advice website Law on the Web.

Irwin Mitchell said in February it would look to convert to ABS, and it is anticipated that Russell Jones & Walker will use the Claims Direct brand as an ABS.

Other contenders include LEGAL365, the legal business set up by Freeserve founder Ajaz Ahmed with law firm Last Cawthra Feather, and In-Deed, the conveyancing service set up by Rightmove founder Harry Hill.

Delays in the parliamentary timetable came to an end last week when an order in parliament authorised the SRA to license ABSs with effect from 23 December 2011.

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