A “specialist paralegal law firm” has launched an alternative business structure (ABS) that hopes to become a full service high street law practice.
Wills and Legal Service (WLS) received a Solicitors Regulation Authority licence for a subsidiary, WLS Solicitors Limited, on 5 October, effective immediately.
The paralegal firm – which is based in Malvern, Worcestershire – undertakes a range of activities, from wills and lasting powers of attorney to trust and estate and housing-related services.
It says on its website that, with qualified paralegals throughout England and Wales, “over 40,000 families have trusted us to take care of their estate planning needs”.
Having an ABS will enable the firm to undertake reserved work such as signing off the deed for family trusts and deeds of variation, and applying to the court for grants of probate.
Solicitor Chris Morgan, who is the ABS’s head of legal practice and of finance and administration, qualified in 2010 and is the company’s sole director. The ABS is a wholly-owned subsidiary of WLS and he is not a director or owner of the paralegals business.
Mr Morgan told Legal Futures that bringing work in-house made sense “from a profit point of view”, adding: “The parent company was was referring a fair amount to a third party and had been for some time… in relation to reserved instrument activities which they couldn’t do. They could [only] advise on them, and gather the information and assist.”
He described WLS as “an innovative group”, which at one time was itself considering setting up a regulator for paralegals. The firm is currently a corporate member of the Institute of Paralegals.
Explaining WLS’s owners’ move into an ABS, he continued: “They are from a business background, so perhaps they are more willing to take the plunge than a high street solicitor.”
In the long run, the ABS planned to expand to become “a fairly normal high street practice”, said Mr Morgan.
After moving premises in the new year, the firm would “be hoping to take on more high street walk-ins and, depending on the work at that point, we will look to take on other solicitors and/or non-solicitor fee-earners to do a fairly broad spectrum of high street work.”
WLS’s promise to potential clients is that it adheres to a strict code of conduct and carries £2m in professional indemnity insurance, while all of its paralegals are DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checked and carry out CPD. “Upon every appointment our practising certificates are shown.”
The website adds: “A duty of care checklist is completed upon each appointment to ensure you are completely clear as to what advice has been given.”
In June a subsidiary of The Estate Planning Group launched an SRA-regulated ABS, The Will Writing Company, which employs a solicitor and a chartered legal executive. Several will-writing companies have also set up ABSs.