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New franchise offers ABS-proof structure

14 February 2011

Law firms seeking to gear up ahead of 6 October will be able to federate under a new brand presenting itself as an alternative to existing pre-ABS structures such as QualitySolicitors, ContactLaw, GetSolicitors and highstreetlawyers.com.

Face2Face Solicitors, a new brand created by the lawyers behind Legal Mentors, the strategic support consultancy for lawyers, is being launched this week to offer smaller firms the chance to join a nationwide ABS-proof structure.

The brand will be owned by a newly created company, Professional Business Structures Ltd, which will subsume Legal Mentors and run the Face2Face franchise.

With centralised IT systems, strategic planning and marketing support, the new network will be reminiscent of the approach taken by QualitySolicitors, the only integrated initiatives so far to help high street firms counter the ABS threat.

Unlike QS, however, Face2Face will only accept firms incorporated as limited companies.

“A main feature of the limited company structure is that it encourages retention of profits for reinvestment into the company, whereas the partnership structure encourages paying out, which is destructive of firms’ growth,” PBS chairman Ray Gordon told Solicitors Journal.

In addition, although PBS will not officially go live until 6 October, it has already had initial discussions with the SRA over possibly acquiring ABS status. Gordon said they were already considering listing on the AIM market as a realistic prospect.

Such moves had already taken place in the accountancy sector with a stock exchange listed business like Tenon being ranked seventh largest in the UK, Gordon said.

F2F will initially focus on private client work, the main stay of the high street, and its initial target market will be the 50+ year-old sector.

And while Gordon accepts the rapid growth of this client base is attracting a lot of interest – most recently by Acrimas through brands such as Saga – he says only F2F will offer the kind of face-to-face personal service that these clients look for.

“We’re looking at the backbone of the UK’s economy,” said the former managing partner of Surrey firm Bells Potter. “Middle income individuals and families who don’t necessarily want ‘pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap’ legal services.

“There’s no doubt there will be some take up for some of the services provided by the Co-op or Acrimas but by the time people get to the middle of their lives their affairs are usually too complicated to be dealt with by a call centre.”

With this in mind, Gordon is also negotiating with a number of financial planning experts – independent financial advisers working on a fee rather than commission basis – to come on board so as to provide a complete end-to-end service.

Franchised firms will be recruited via a two-day assessment process and are looking at start-up firms, two to four-partner firms, and teams looking to break away from their firms to join the network.

Membership of the franchise (www.face2 facesolicitors.com) will involve a one-off payment plus a percentage of the franchisee’s annual turnover, both of which are yet to be finalised.

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