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Exclusive: Solicitors choose “practical and proportionate” BSB regulation in ABS first

Atkins: We were convinced by the BSB’s attitude

Solicitors setting up an alternative business structure (ABS) this month in Marlborough, Wiltshire, have chosen to be regulated by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

It is understood to be the first time a BSB-regulated ABS has been created without barrister involvement.

Alex Atkins, director of high street firm Marlborough Law, said regulation by the BSB was “much more practical and proportionate” than the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) alternative.

“The difference between them was mind-blowing,” he said. “The BSB’s handbook was much shorter, while still providing robust regulation. The SRA’s handbook was stifling.

“The SRA’s application process seemed to involve an inordinate amount of work. The BSB encourages you, and works with you throughout the process. They want you to thrive and push forward the boundaries of the ABS structure.”

Mr Atkins said the application process took three months. “We were convinced by the BSB’s attitude and don’t regret it.”

He said the firm had obtained the same level of indemnity insurance cover it would have done if it had been regulated by the SRA, despite the BSB’s lower limit of £500,000.

Marlborough Law has a SRA ID number and is listed on the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor service, where it is labelled ‘not an SRA-regulated law practice’.

Mr Atkins said the firm, which does not do conveyancing, could manage for the time being without holding client money, but would at some point need to rely on the BARCO scheme, set up to allow barristers and BSB entities to hold money in an escrow account.

Mr Atkins began his legal career as a Crown Prosecution Service caseworker, before working briefly as a paralegal for a construction company. He qualified as a solicitor at DGR Law in Marlborough, and advises mainly on commercial law.

He owns 40% of the law firm, and fellow director Karen Salmon, who specialises in family law, owns a further 40%. The remaining 20% is owned by her husband, Mike Salmon, an electronic engineer who owns his own business in Berkshire. Mr Salmon’s role is managing the practice.

Mr Atkins said Marlborough Law’s first year would be devoted to establishing its client base, balancing the books and making people aware of the service, but one of the areas he would like the firm to focus on in the future was SMEs.

“Marlborough has a surprisingly vibrant business world. They really need a good service, provided early on, but that is not particularly present in the local area.”

He went on: “ABS was the obvious way to go for us, with all the business acumen we’ve got. They enable the lawyers to concentrate on the law and others to provide the business experience.

“I think ABSs allow high street firms to compete. It’s the way most firms should go.”

Mr Atkins added that he did not believe having more than one regulator was a problem for law firms, as long as they were of a “comparable standard” – like the BSB and SRA.

“I tried to explain it to our prospective clients at the end of last year, but their eyes glazed over. The difference between the BSB and the SRA is not something they want to deal with.”

There are currently only six other ABSs licensed by the BSB. The first, VII Law [1], brought together barristers from 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings and football agents last May.

It was followed [2] by a ‘virtual’ chambers that supports direct access work and a niche financial services chambers.