A London chambers has become the first alternative business structure (ABS) licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that does not have any solicitors.
Richmond Chambers LLP is a niche immigration set that focuses on direct access work.
Set up by Paul Richmond, it has two other barristers – including Sarah Giddens, the ABS’s head of legal practice – and three paralegals.
Mr Richmond – formerly of 1 Mitre Court Building – said there were four reasons for becoming an ABS: “Experience of practise within a traditional chambers has taught us that it is often difficult for a collective of self-employed barristers to achieve consensus in relation to important business development issues,” he said.
“The ABS framework has allowed us to implement a team of managing partners who are able to provide chambers with a strategic decision-making capacity and direction that would not otherwise be present.”
ABS status had also allowed him to bring in a non-lawyer owner with financial management experience “to ensure the financial stability of chambers in its early years, as well as its successful growth and development in the longer term”.
Mr Richmond added that while “international clients are attracted to the opportunity of seeking advice and representation from the Bar, many are more comfortable instructing a regulated entity rather than a regulated individual. Practising as an ABS has enabled us to offer our international clients the protection of two regulatory regimes – a barrister regulated by the Bar Standards Board, practising from a chambers that is regulated by the SRA”.
The final reason for becoming an ABS, he said, was to offer other barristers “a new and innovative model for professional practice within the field of immigration law”.
He explained: “Our aim is to combine the independence and flexible practising arrangements traditionally enjoyed by the Bar, with the sort of opportunities for job security, collaborative working and career progression more commonly found within a progressive law firm environment.”
Mr Richmond said complying with a new regulatory regime “has itself already had a positive impact in terms of the development of chambers”.
The flexibility of the ABS structure also means that Ms Giddens can practise both as a member of the ABS and also as self-employed members of the Bar in the traditional way. She is a member of Atkinson Bevan Chambers, 2 Harcourt Buildings as well and intends to continue in a dual capacity.
Eastgate Chambers , which is part of a law firm group, was the first chambers to become an ABS, while Artesian Law  – which broke new ground as an SRA-regulated legal disciplinary practice made up of barristers and one solicitor partner – has applied for ABS status so as to bring its practice manager into partnership.
The Bar Standards Board hopes to start licensing advocacy-focused ABSs next year.