Morrish Solicitors has become the first law firm to take external investment from a trade union.
The Leeds practice has formed an alternative business structure (ABS) with its client, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), which joins as a partner and member of the LLP.
The TSSA represents 30,000 administrative, managerial, professional and technical workers in the railway, London Underground, the travel trade, ports and ferries.
Morrish senior partner Paul Scholey told Legal Futures that cementing the relationship with the TSSA had been the primary driver behind the move, while for the TSSA it was a way of receiving a return for the “enormous” amount of work it sends Morrish’s way.
He said another union client has already expressed an interest in joining forces with Morrish – this could be as another corporate member of this ABS or as a separate ABS.
Mr Scholey said: “We have worked with the TSSA and the Solicitors Regulation Authority for 12 months to establish what we believe is the world’s first union-based ABS. It brings us closer to one of our most significant clients, whilst the TSSA benefits from a direct financial relationship with a major service provider.
“We have ensured that rigorous controls are in place to provide for our continuing independence and impartiality – and so that our other clients can be satisfied that their interests continue to be best served as ever.
“The SRA licensing process has been painstaking in its detail to ensure that past, present and future clients’ positions are 100% safeguarded.”
The firm’s other 19 trade union clients had been contacted to reassure them of the robustness of the Chinese walls that will operate within Morrish, he said.
Morrish has a £5m turnover, 80 staff and four offices in Yorkshire. Mr Scholey emphasised that the TSSA arrangement was not a way to deal with the referral fee ban – there were much “easier and cheaper” ways of doing that than forming an ABS.
Frank Ward, assistant general secretary of the TSSA, added: “We have a long and happy relationship with Morrish, and the natural next step now that non-lawyer investment in law firms is permissible was to look at better integration of the provision of legal services to our union and our members – but without any of the regulatory issues that would arise were we to create an in-house legal team.
“We are looking forward to developing our legal offering for members together with our legal partners.”