One of the country’s best-known personal injury lawyers has formed the latest alternative business structure (ABS) as he prepares for the introduction of the Jackson reforms.
Amelans is run by Andrew Twambley, and has become an ABS so that accountant Denise Wilkinson – the firm’s new compliance officer for finance and administration – can become a partner.
Mr Twambley came to prominence at the turn of the century with his involvement in some landmark conditional fee agreement cases, and in 2005 he and the firm were the subject of a six-part fly-on-the-wall BBC documentary called ‘No Win, No Fee’. He founded Injury Lawyers 4U (IL4U) and had a spell as chairman of the Claims Standards Council.
He told Legal Futures that while there are no immediate plans for external investment, Amelans now has the potential to seek it, while the ABS structure gives the firm greater flexibility than a traditional law firm in responding to the Jackson reforms when they come in next April. “We’re on the precipice of jumping into the future,” he said. “We are far more attractive to third parties [as an ABS] and can decide and do things better.”
The ABS licence includes a host of conditions around Mr Twambley and Ms Wilkinson’s roles as directors and shareholders in IL4U.
These include that: it is a non-profit making body; it is wholly owned and operated by authorised bodies or authorised role holders; its purpose is to advertise the services of participating firms and the referral of clients is necessary to give effect to this purpose; it has no further involvement in the client’s matter once the referral has been made; and the marketing of participating firms does not include paying third parties to refer clients to the scheme or to the participating firms.
Mr Twambley said the conditions “purely reflect what we’ve been doing” and that he is confident the IL4U scheme will not fall foul of the impending ban on referral fees because “even though the Act is ambiguous, we don’t pay a penny in referral fees”.
The recent Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) discussion paper on implementing the ban said that while any arrangement that involves advertising “is likely to be problematic”, it is not the government’s intention to prevent solicitors pooling their marketing resources to conduct an advertising campaign, with enquiries distributed amongst contributing firms, a point reinforced recently by justice minister Jonathan Djanogly. This is how IL4U is structured; there is no ‘middle man’, with enquiries routed directly to member firms rather than through a call centre.
Mr Twambley said he put in his stage one ABS application on 3 January, the day the SRA began accepting them, and the stage two application towards the end of February. The SRA asked a lot of follow-up questions and it was not until 15 June that the application fee was invoiced and paid, marking the start of the formal six-month consideration period.
He said the process had been very rigorous – “the SRA is very, very interested in detail and is not just ticking boxes” – but it had taken longer than he expected and he had the impression that the SRA was understaffed.