Hinton: ABSs will start to have more of an impact over time

More than half of conveyancing firms are open to becoming alternative business structures (ABSs), even though few believe they will improve services for clients.

The survey of 108 firms by property search provider SearchFlow also found that while 14% of firms believe that in the next year the increased competition from ABSs is the greatest threat to conveyancers, double that number identified lenders’ panel selection decisions.

Fewer than 10% of solicitors polled thought the Legal Services Act will do anything to improve clients’ ability to access high-quality conveyancing services. But at the same time 57% of firms said they would consider becoming an ABS or are still undecided, with 43% saying they have ruled it out.

A regional breakdown indicated that conveyancers in central London firms are the least likely to be considering ABS conversion, with just 20% saying they were. But when asked how they are planning to adapt to the arrival of ABSs, 23% of London firms are planning to increase their marketing spend compared to 15% nationally.

Overall, 12% of firms are now planning to change their practice areas and 10% are expecting to begin to offer fixed fees.

Richard Hinton, business development director at SearchFlow, said: “In terms of the licensing of new forms of legal practice to deliver legal services, the impact of the Legal Services Act has been slow in the year since launch. More changes are expected to be felt in the coming 12 months, and more than half of all firms have not ruled out becoming an ABS.

“It was interesting to note that just 20% of central London firms would consider becoming an ABS. Some of them possibly feel there is less incentive for them to do so as they already have alliances and volumes of business that make them feel more protected in comparison to other parts of the country, but this could always change.

“The more immediate issues for solicitors are panel management and the weak property market, although it looks like ABSs will start to have more of an impact over time.”

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