The number of alternative business structures licensed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) to provide probate services has hit 100, it has emerged.
A further 47 accountancy firms have been authorised to provide probate services. Where all the principals in a firm are authorised, they do not need to go through the more complicated application process involved in becoming an ABS.
Peter James, head of regulatory policy at the ICAEW, told Legal Futures that applications for both kinds of firm were coming in at around 20 per month, and there were 33 more in the pipeline.
Mr James said the ICAEW had expected there to be more authorised firms than ABSs. “The mix is richer than we thought,” he said. “We thought a lot of sole practices would be involved, but there are a large number of firms with two partners or more.
“Some of the more adventurous are inviting other professionals in to create MDPs, but we’re not seeing a lot of it. Accountants are largely continuing as accountants, but doing work previously reserved to lawyers.”
Mr James said many of the ABSs licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) were not providing different models of service delivery, despite their “more imaginative” shareholdings.
“The ones we have licensed may not even have a lawyer involved. We are leading in achieving the mix of services sought by the Legal Services Act.”
Legal Services Board research last week revealed that small business owners were more likely to seek legal advice from accountants  than from lawyers.
In a separate development, Mr James said the ICAEW would have lay majorities on its disciplinary tribunals by January next year – two lay members and an accountant.
Under the rules, if the matter involves legal services, neither accountants nor solicitors count as ‘lay’ members. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is usually made up of two solicitors and a lay member.
“We are ahead of the legal profession in putting the process under public scrutiny,” he added.
Earlier this month the ICAEW announced that Michael Caplan QC, one of the few solicitor QCs  and a partner at Kingsley Napley for over 30 years, had been recruited to head its new regulatory board.