The British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) is aiming to meet the unmet need for legal advice in the sector, having finally revealed its plans for the alternative business structure (ABS) licenced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority some seven months ago .
The BPIF is the first trade association to set up an ABS, joining the likes of trade unions and other individual membership bodies in offering specialist legal services for members.
BPIF Legal, which started trading this month, is staffed by the BPIF’s existing in-house legal team, and will provide a range of legal services – all of which will be fixed fee – dealing with employment and commercial issues on top of those that printers get for free as part of their membership of the federation.
Head of legal Anne Copley said the previous ban on lawyers employed by trade associations charging for their services made it difficult to justify their employment.
She said: “These in-house lawyers have built up substantial experience of the relevant industry sector, and are perfectly placed to offer the sort of practical, commercial legal advice that their members require. This is particularly so in the print sector, which is populated almost entirely by SMEs.
“As industry-specific lawyers, we have always been the advisers of choice for our members. Now we are licensed and free of the earlier restrictions, I am looking forward to spreading the word about the SME-friendly services that our legal team can offer.”
Major Legal Services Board research in 2013  found that lawyers only become involved in 12% of legal issues facing small businesses, with fear of the cost of legal advice the main concern. Of the minority of SMEs that sought professional advice, just 9% went to trade associations.
Dale Wallis, BPIF’s membership director, added: “I am very pleased that we are now in a position to push ahead with our plans for innovative delivery of commercial legal services to all our members.”
The BPIF already runs an enhanced subscription service called Legal Plus, and member Barry Curryer, operations director at Buckinghamshire printers BCQ, said: “I have been very impressed by the BPIF legal services over the years, and have never quite understood the restrictions placed upon Anne Copley and her team. Being able to use lawyers with a profound understanding of my own industry is of huge benefit.”