ABS update: Online boost, Gateley income up, non-lawyers on the rise and government asked to authorise BSB

Ward: excellent progress

Ward: excellent progress

Alternative business structures (ABSs) are three times more likely than regular firms to offer “novel online solutions for clients wishing to access their services”, according to the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).

The CLC was the first body to grant an ABS licence and has gone on to licence 53 conveyancing and probate firms to date. There are now nearly 500 ABSs licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

An analysis of data gathered by the CLC from its regulated community found that while 44.4% of ABSs provided clients with some form of online interactive service beyond e-mail, only 14.6% of traditional firms could say the same.

The CLC said the finding was in line with both SRA and Legal Services Board research that showed SRA-regulated ABSs made greater use of new information and communication technologies than traditional solicitors’ firms.

“People increasingly expect to be able to find, purchase, and monitor the progress of services online, and if the providers of legal services wish to remain competitive, then all of them must bear in mind their customers’ expectations,” the CLC said.

In other ABS news, national law firm Gateley – the first law firm to float on the London Stock Exchange – yesterday issued a positive trading update for the financial year ended 30 April 2016.

This said that, subject to audit, revenues for the year would be not less than £66m – for the 2014/15 financial year, they were £61m – with adjusted EBITDA of not less than £12.6m.

“Cash generation has also been strong, enabling the group to invest in the opening of a new office in Reading together with the recent acquisition of Gateley Capitus Limited,” the company told investors. CEO Michael Ward added: “In a market that continues to be challenging, the board has remained focused on the execution of our stated strategy of long-term organic and acquisitive growth.

“The group has made excellent progress since our successful AIM admission, all of which has been made possible by the positive reaction to our flotation by our diversified client base and excellent staff. Trading in the second half of FY2015 was robust and the board believes that the group is well placed for future growth and we look forward to the current financial year with confidence.”

Meanwhile, two ABSs have appointed a series of non-lawyers to their partnerships. Midlands firm Nelsons has made up HR director Lindsey Harrison, finance director David Patterson, marketing director Anna Smith and IT director Matthew Riches.

Managing partner Chris Miller said: “Over recent years we have recognised that there are people in the firm with business backgrounds who are extremely important to our growth plans and our business objectives and who should be rewarded with improved career opportunities.”

SSB Law in Sheffield, newly licensed as an ABS, has promoted operations director Steve Westwood and business development director Wesley Bower to partner level.

Andy Gray, previously managing director of mortgages at Barclays, is to join the board of Optima Legal as a non-executive director pending approval from the SRA.

Optima Legal is part of Capita and provides legal services for property transactions, debt recovery and litigation services.

David Ashcroft, Optima’s managing director, said: “Andy will be able to inject the voice and expectations of our clients and customers into all our strategies and day-to-day operations, ensuring we deliver the best possible outcomes and legal service experiences. His appointment confirms Optima Legal’s continuing commitment to differentiating itself from the competition and further underlines Capita’s wider ambitions in the UK mortgage market.”

Finally, the Legal Services Board has formally recommended to the Lord Chancellor that he designate the Bar Council – as the approved regulator of barristers – as an ABS licensing authority, following its decision to approve its bid at the end of March. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) hopes to start accepting applications from October.

Legal Services Board chairman Sir Michael Pitt said: “ABS are a valuable contributor to the innovation and increase in consumer choice that we wish to see across the whole legal services sector.”

BSB director of regulatory policy Ewen MacLeod said: “We want to permit innovation in the legal services market, which we hope will increase choice and provide other lasting benefits for consumers.”

Philip Robertson, director of policy at the Bar Council, added: “Giving barristers more freedom of choice as to how they provide legal services supports innovation and widens the range of options available to the consumer.”

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