A solicitor has merged her law practice with the family estate agency and finance business in an alternative business structure (ABS) that is thought to be the first in Cumbria.
Sole practitioner Kelly Walsh is winding up her Grange-over-Sands-based firm, KW Legal, in order to join her father-in-law’s business, Home and Finance IFA Limited (H&F).
The ABS will be called H&F Legal. It received its licence from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in March, effective from the beginning of this month. But the application process was described as “a nightmare”.
H&F, headquartered in Ulverston, combines an estate agency, financial advice, insurance and life cover, and has branch offices in Millom and Barrow-in-Furness.
Ms Walsh told Legal Futures she had been referred H&F’s conveyancing for some years but that “as a sole practitioner I was finding it difficult to get on all the mortgage panels”. The hope was that “by becoming an ABS, we’d be able to circumnavigate that problem”.
The ABS will immediately employ a further two lawyers and paralegal support staff “so we can have lawyers in all three of the offices”, she said.
She said the business would be a “standalone” service and “it will increase its growth without just relying on the existing customer base”. Creating an ABS “shows other local legal firms that we mean business and we are not just doing it to complement the estate agency, for instance”.
Ms Walsh said the ABS application process was “a nightmare” that only improved once the application – submitted at the beginning of August – was assigned a case handler in December. The handler was “really helpful and very good”. However, she added: “The questions we’ve been asked at times have been a little ridiculous.”
She said the firm had only decided to put in the application when it heard the process had been speeded up. “We thought that’s fantastic, we will submit the application now and we can be trading in January.” But the time taken by the SRA meant the plan had been delayed by several months.
Last week the SRA announced plans  to encourage more multi-disciplinary ABSs.