Nottingham Law School, the first in the country to apply for an alternative business structure (ABS) licence, aims to offer young entrepreneurs a paid-for business advice service, it has emerged.
Jenny Holloway, associate dean, said the idea was partly inspired by a visit to Chicago, where she saw law clinics offering business, finance and tax advice at below-market rates.
Ms Holloway said many graduates of Nottingham Trent University, to which the law school belongs, were setting up their own businesses.
“These early start-ups are not the kind that would normally get legal advice,” Ms Holloway said. “They can’t afford it.
“Our Legal Advice Centre is already providing some of them with preliminary advice, helping them to fill out forms for Companies House or advising on whether to become a partnership or a limited company.”
Ms Holloway explained how in the USA in 2012, she had seen law students at Chicago-Kent College of Law and Loyola University providing commercial advice for below-market-rate fixed fees.
“Their law clinics were providing advice on business, finance and tax – not the kind normally associated with clinics in the UK. Their approach was: ‘If you can’t afford very limited fees for legal advice, you can’t afford to set up a business’. This got us thinking about our future potential.”
Ms Holloway said her ultimate goal would be to employ a full-time commercial lawyer at the advice centre.
“Supervision is the limiting factor on all our activities,” she said. “For us the quality of work our students do is as good as you would get from a paid-for provider – the regulations don’t allow for a second-rate service.”
In the advice centre’s ABS application, Ms Holloway, a former personal injury solicitor, said she had been named as head of legal practice. Gemma Jarvis, finance and planning manager at Nottingham Trent University’s College of Business, Law and Social Sciences, is named as head of finance and administration.
Ms Holloway said she had no idea how long the Solicitors Regulation Authority would take to process the ABS application, which went in at the end of last month.
She said that a “number of things had come together” in the build-up to making the application. One of them was continuing uncertainty over the special body exemption from the Legal Services Act, which permits not-for-profit organisations to undertake reserved legal work without being an ABS.
Another was the opening of the advice centre’s new offices last year, and the aim to expand the number of students involved from 148 in the last academic year to over 200 this year.
Ms Holloway said the traditional law clinic areas of housing, debt and welfare advice were all busy, along with employment, where a new solicitor was due to start next month. She mentioned probate as a possible area for expansion.
She said the ABS could open the way for new partnerships with law firms or other organisations, with students being sent on secondments and work being outsourced from firms to the advice centre.
“Ultimately what drives us is thinking about how our students can get not only the best academic opportunities, but the best employment opportunities and skills base. It’s a competitive job market – for all graduates.”