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High street reaches 'tipping point' on road to the ABS revolution

21 February 2011

The legal services sector has reached “a tipping point” on the road to ABSs, a leading high street lawyer has said.

Responding to the arrival of the new legal franchise Face2Face Solicitors, first reported in solicitorsjournal.com on 14 February, John Baden-Daintree said there was now momentum in the market as “law firms realise that huge change to the legal market is about to happen”.

A founding member of QualitySolicitors, Baden-Daintree based his comments on the growth of the QS network which he said has been faster than anticipated and has “exceeded expectations”.

“It has been far easier to recruit firms than we hoped,” the senior QualitySolicitors Burroughs Day partner said. “We have been inundated with applications by firms wanting to join the network and have had to make some difficult decisions.”

Set up in January 2009 by barrister Craig Holt, QualitySolicitors launched with 15 firms in May 2010, with a further 55 in November and an additional 50 by February 2011.

Last week, however, the network passed the 150 mark (final numbers are still to be confirmed) and was planning on having more than 250 by the end of the summer. This would give QS just under 19 per cent of the five to 25-partner firms’ segment – its target market.

The present strategy is to only allow one firm within a given catchment area but Solicitors Journal understands that the criterion may be refined to reduce the size of the catchment areas and allow more firms in more densely populated areas.

But while Face2Face intends to develop its market share around the two to four-partner firms and QS around the five to 25 segment Baden-Daintree insisted the key criterion in building a legal network was the quality of the firms recruited and of the service they provided.

“QS believes in clients having access to independent advice but there is room in the market for more than one brand,” Baden-Daintree continued.

“That’s a good thing for solicitors and that’s a good thing for the public.”

“This is about quality legal expertise delivered at local level; it’s not about commoditisation or bargain basement advice,” he stressed. “If people are looking for cheap deals then they’ll go to other providers but they’ll get what they pay for. There’s demand for this kind of service but this is not what we are offering.”

In a separate development, former Law Society president Edward Nally has been appointed non-executive member of the Legal Services Board for a four-year term starting last week.

The 55-year-old solicitor replaces a non-lay member post left vacant following Rosemary Martin’s departure last month.

Although non-lay members have no specific remit or territory, an LSB spokesperson said Nally would provide “a valuable depth of insight into conditions in small and medium-sized firms, as well as experience drawn from his many impressive representative roles”.

Nally qualified with Bolton-based Fieldings Porter in 1980, becoming a partner in 1982. Now the firm’s senior partner, he has had an interest in regulatory matters for some time as chair of the Law Society’s regulation review working party in 2001.

He was appointed president of the Law Society in 2004 when the legal services bill was one of the major items on the profession’s agenda.

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