Non-legal services and growth plans – ABSs keep on coming


Holden Smith: (l-r) James Smith, Dave Bancroft and Jamie Megson

An alternative business structure (ABS) combining conveyancing and mortgage advice has been launched in Yorkshire, with the three founders investing more than £500,000 in the venture.

Holden Smith in Huddersfield has been set up by James Smith and Dave Bancroft – previously lawyer and non-lawyer partners respectively at Yorkshire firm Ison Harrison – and financial adviser Jamie Megson, who will provide his services as a separate business.

The firm will initially focus on residential property services across West Yorkshire, with plans to expand into other areas of law soon. It has recruited three staff, with plans to create an additional five jobs by the end of 2019.

Mr Smith, vice-president of Huddersfield Law Society and former head of Ison Harrison’s office in the town, said: “Our combined 35 years’ experience has demonstrated clearly that there is a much-needed requirement to ensure customer service is the number one priority in the legal sector.

“Our investment embodies this, by providing clients with instant communication on their matter using apps and online portals, combined with efficient face-to-face communication which is still vital in the process.”

Mr Bancroft – who was head of residential conveyancing at Ison Harrison for a period and latterly head of business development – added: “Previously, a lack of technology has held us back in our roles. In our sector, accuracy and quality of work should be a given, but communicating effectively with the client about what’s happening during the process is where the new focus needs to be and is what will make us stand out.”

Still in Yorkshire, an ABS offering corporate clients both legal and finance advice has launched in Sheffield. 7Legal and Finance brings together solicitor Jeremy Bennett and Samantha Sellars, and accountant Chris Sellars.

One of its first actions was to acquire the business of Mackenzie Spencer Corporate Finance, led by Mr Sellars and Matthew Milnes.

Russell & Russell – which has 13 offices across Greater Manchester and Chester – has become an ABS and limited liability partnership. It has 14 equity partners and 220 staff, but said several of the salaried partners would be invited to join the equity.

Managing partner Judith Bromley said: “This is a strategic move that will give us much more flexibility going forward. The legal landscape has changed considerably and as a partnership, we recognised that we need to operate our business in a modern, efficient way by having a more corporate structure to help achieve our objectives.

“Having the freedom of being an ABS will allow the firm to attract talented people who may not have a legal background, but do have skills that will add value to the business.”

Another new ABS is Carbon Law Partners, a ‘virtual’ practice which recently announced a share ownership scheme for lawyers and staff.

Carbon launched as a ‘hub-and-spoke’-type platform in 2014 – offering solicitors a platform to run their practices – has expanded to 30 partners, and said it would now consider the opportunities for external investment.

Founder and chief executive Michael Burne said ABS status was “a key step in the ongoing evolution of our firm and marks the next chapter in the development of our business model”.

He continued: “Clients are looking for more than just legal services from their law firms. They are looking for a range of advisory services that they may require at different stages of their growth.

“By converting to an ABS, as part of our wider group of companies we are future-proofing Carbon and are ensuring we are building flexibility into our approach to delivering high-quality advice to our clients.”

Meanwhile, national law firm Simpson Millar is looking to recruit nearly 100 new legal and other staff by the end of the year, taking its headcount to around 600.

It wants to fill almost 40 of the roles in the next two months in the latest sign of the ABS’s revival since being taken over funder Doorway Capital last year. It is also rebranding to position the firm as ‘The Open Lawyers’.

The plan for a 20% increase in headcount comes 16 months after the then embattled firm announced that it was having to cut 20% of staff.

Helen Sutton, the firm’s new director of HR, said changes in the approach to staff included a new flexible working policy, a more informal dress code, and a new learning and development programme.

Simpson Millar chief executive Greg Cox said: “We have looked hard at how people want to deal with their lawyers. There is a real need to ‘open up’ the law, removing some of the myths and barriers to access, providing access to legal services which fit in with the lives of our clients not the convenience of lawyers, finding ways to meet the legal need which is currently going unmet and being able to present complex issues in a simple, open way.”




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