From social welfare law to remortgaging – latest ABSs take licence count to 70

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16 January 2013


SRA: 70 licences made public

A social welfare law firm, a boutique dispute resolution practice, and a dedicated volume remortgage specialist that wants to align its structure with its corporate clients, are among the most recent alternative business structures (ABSs) licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

It brings the number of licences issued which are in the public domain to 70.

Somerset-based Fasttrac Solicitors, which offers a highly-automated legal processing ‘solution’ to lenders, has acquired a licence in order to bring non-solicitors into the business in managerial positions. It has no plans at present to seek external investment and intends to grow organically.

Simon Whitwham, the ABS’s head of finance and administration (HOFA) and its client relationship and development manager, said the business planned to recruit non-lawyer non-executive directors “very soon”. At present the only solicitor on the company’s board – and the ABS’s head of legal practice (HOLP) – is Fasttrac director and “architect behind its services for lenders”, Jonathan Stokes, although the firm employs other solicitors.

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Mr Whitwham explained that Fasttrac has invested heavily in automation and customer service. “These are the two things that drive our philosophy,” he said. As well as enabling the business to bring non-lawyers on board, the ABS means “we can also promote internal people to managerial positions… and we can put in what should be standard corporate structures for law firms which you don’t necessarily find in traditional equity partner firms”.

He continued that as an ABS, Fasttrac – which was founded 12 years ago – can be “run as a proper business that works in the corporate world, because all our clients are corporate lenders and we need to be on that wavelength and running our business as they run theirs. Thinking particularly about risk management, fraud, risk and compliance, and all those other things that they are heavily focused on is exactly what we need to be looking at too.”

Swansea-based Ty Arian Solicitors, which describes itself as “a social welfare law centre”, carries out both legal aid and private work, including fixed-fee work in community care, housing, welfare benefits, debt, immigration and asylum, and family law.

Ty Arian’s head of legal practice is managing director and head of community leagl advice, Helen Williams. She is a former national legal aid lawyer of the year award winner and has worked in private practice and in the voluntary sector.

Also among the latest tranche of ABSs is Grosvenor Law, a boutique personal and dispute resolution law firm based in London’s Mayfair. For the past two years the firm has acted for “high profile and high-net worth clients” in both civil and criminal disputes.

Grosvenor’s senior partner and founder, Dan Morrison, is a former senior equity partner at Mishcon de Reya and was the head of its banking and litigation practice. Sally Ann Marsden, both Grosvenor’s HOLP and its HOFA, said the firm had no specific business plan for the ABS at present but would “wait and see how we use it”. She added: “We are new and are not tying ourselves down to any particular path at the moment”.

Liverpool-based claimant personal injury practice Law4U Services Limited, which has been trading since February last year, has also become an ABS. Its joint HOLP and HOFA, solicitor Steven Hale, would not be drawn on the business’s future plans, explaining only that the ABS application was “a straightforward process involving a non-lawyer and that’s pretty much it”. He described the SRA’s approach as “painstaking” but added that the authority was “very helpful throughout”.

Mr Whitwham said the SRA had been “quite thorough” with Fasttrac’s application and that having first lodged it in “early April 2012”, the process had been a “long road”.

Ms Marsden agreed that Grosvenor’s application had been “a very lengthy process” involving the SRA “dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’”, but its officials had been “very helpful” throughout.

Other businesses granted ABS licences were two Manchester-based companies – Acorn Law Northwest Limited, run by family lawyer Alexandra Mattur, and Knightsbridge Chase – along with Jigsaw Law, a claims management company in Ellesmere Port associated with solicitors’ firm Scott Hurst.

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