Liverpool firm “open to external capital” as it gains ABS licence

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27 February 2013


SRA: firm questions speed of application process

A Liverpool firm that describes itself as “very open-minded” about external investment is one of a pair of firms to receive the latest alternative business structure (ABS) licences from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Canter Levin & Berg, which has 13 partners and 130 staff in Liverpool and Kirby, as well as a focus on personal injury work, became a legal disciplinary partnership (LDP) in 2009 in order to enable chartered accountant Louise Burns-Lunt to become a non-lawyer partner.

Employment law partner Martin Malone told Legal Futures the firm wanted to become a limited liability partnership but because it was an LDP, under SRA rules it had to be licensed as an ABS first. “It’s a weird situation”, he said, but explained that the ABS application had also been forward looking.

“We decided it would be sensible to keep our options open in terms of possible partnerships and arrangements. We haven’t got external investors lined up and we are not about to undergo some sort of radical overhaul… but it seems prudent to be ready to move quickly should the need arise, particularly with all the changes we are facing this year.”

The firm was “very open minded” about external investment, he said. “While I can’t say that we have a suitor lined up, if a suitor was to present him, her, or itself I’m sure that as a firm we would be interested in any such approaches because that’s got to be part of our range of options moving forward.”

Mr Malone said the ABS application process – launched nearly 10 months ago –  was “protracted” and he could not understand why as an LDP it had taken so long. “There were long gaps when nothing happened… there were technical errors with the forms and it took a while to find out what was going on. We had no core changes – basically there appeared to be the vetting of some forms, a couple of CRB checks, and that’s it.”

The other ABS is Signet Partners, a boutique employment practice based in the City of London. It obtained the licence in order to make co-founder and chartered accountant, Nick Temple, a full equity member and owner of the firm.

Signet co-founder and partner Louise Hobbs also cited flexibility in a changing market as a further reason for applying to become an ABS. “We recognise that we need a wide skill-set to succeed in a competitive market place… We also believe that as an ABS we are well positioned to be flexible and take advantage of all opportunities in this fast-changing market place”.

Mr Temple reported that the application process had been “reasonably smooth”.

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