The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), once criticised for taking too long to approve alternative business structures, is now regularly approving applications in only two weeks, it has emerged.
The applications involved are from firms which are legal disciplinary practices (LDPs) and already have non-lawyer or non-solicitor partners.
Paul de Pledge, founder of civil practice Fowler de Pledge, said the law firm was one of the first 10 in the country to become an LDP in 2009, when accountant Peter Martin became a partner.
Mr de Pledge said the SRA, which has now authorised 460 ABSs, had “hinted from time to time that they would quite like” LDPs to be in the ABS category. It is no longer possible to become an LDP.
“It was very straightforward for us to move across,” he said. “There was no pressure on us to do so.”
Based in Cambridge and Farnham in Surrey, Fowler de Pledge provides commercial law services, personal injury, private client and employment. Andrew Fowler, a personal injury specialist, is the other founding partner.
“We’ve always found having an accountant in the mix to be very useful,” Mr de Pledge said. “It helps both with management of the firm and when we are acting for business owners. In the right context we can offer a one-stop shop.”
A spokesman for the SRA said two weeks had become the average for awarding ABS licenses to LDPs. “If we already have all the relevant information about the firm, it doesn’t take long,” he said.
He added that non-LDP firms were being approved at a rate “well within” the target of three months.
Meanwhile an ABS set up by recruitment consultants has recruited its first self-employed solicitor.
Lucy Tarrant, managing director of Cognitive Law, said the firm aimed to employ 10 ‘consultant solicitors’ by the end of the year.
She said instead of being partners or employees, consultant solicitors at Cognitive would simply give a percentage of their fee income to the firm. “It’s completely flexible,” she said. “There are no fee income or chargeable hour targets. Solicitors simply work at home for their own clients.
“It’s perfect for parents who’ve been working in the City and spending hours commuting. They can commute to their spare room instead.”
Cognitive Law was launched as an LLP in September 2014, by Stuart Gillespie, founder of recruitment consultants G2 Legal, and Ms Tarrant, who at that time was the company’s in-house lawyer.
Based in Brighton, the firm obtained a fresh ABS license after it became a limited company earlier this year, with Mr Gillespie, Ms Tarrant and Annette Thorpe, managing director of G2 Legal, becoming directors.
Ms Tarrant said her current workload consisted entirely in giving general commercial legal advice to recruitment companies. Along with G2 Legal, Ms Tarrant said she had 24 other clients in the sector across the country.
Having appointed Karen Blakesley as consultant solicitor at the start of this month, Ms Tarrant said she was in talks with three or four other solicitors – one of them in Cornwall.
Other ABSs licensed by the SRA so far this year include Yorkshire conveyancer Beaumont Legal, the first UK firm to be bought by US online legal services provider LegalZoom.
Mr Holt, chief executive of LegalZoom UK and a barrister, is the firm’s head of legal practice.
Beaumont Legal, based in Wakefield, is one of the country’s biggest conveyancers, with a turnover of £5m and 150 staff.
Meanwhile LCN Legal, an Anglo-Chinese ABS, has been set up in Blackheath, south-east London, by Paul and Xiaofang Sutton.
Mr Sutton worked as a lawyer for KPMG, before becoming a partner at McGrigors and then at Pinsent Masons. Ms Sutton studied law in Beijing before completing an LLM in international commercial law at the University of Edinburgh.