There are now more than 300 alternative business structures (ABS) operating in England and Wales under the supervision of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Among the latest converts is Porter Dodson, a rural top-200 firm based in Somerset and Dorset, and a small south of England practice where non-lawyer family members have joined the partnership to enable the firm to join conveyancing panels.
The SRA is currently licensing 310 ABSs, a figure which excludes those ABSs which have given up their licences for a variety of reasons. The Council for Licensed Conveyancers has issued a further 54 licences.
Porter Dodson is unusual for a firm of its size in not having an office in any of the cities in the south west and in having a separate website, Porter Dodson Fertility and Parenting, specialising in advice on surrogacy and donor conception.
Robert Fox, the firm’s managing partner, said the firm wanted to keep its “rural footprint” while becoming a “modern, dynamic law firm”.
Mr Fox went on: “Our competitors all have a presence in Bristol, Exeter or Southampton. We don’t want that. We’re quite a big fish in a relatively unusual pool and we don’t have any direct competitors in these two counties.”
He said the firm could tap into a “rich vein of work” in Somerset and Dorset, and there was “a way to go in getting value from it”, rather than expanding into new geographical areas.
Porter Dodson’s ABS status, effective from last Friday, has enabled the firm’s finance director, accountant Nicholas Clegg, to become a partner. Mr Fox becomes the COLP and Mr Clegg the COFA.
Chartered legal executive Chris Pemberton, a probate specialist based in Dorchester, has also become a partner.
“We’re a strong firm that is growing fast, with its success based on client relationships. We are trying to make sure we have all the flexibility we can muster to deliver what clients want and compete with our rivals.”
The firm has 20 partners, 160 staff and offices in Taunton, Yeovil, Dorchester, Sherborne, Wellington and Sturminster Newton.
Another broad-based regional firm, Switalskis in Yorkshire, was granted an ABS licence by the Solicitors Regulation Authority at the end of last month. It will be effective from 1 October.
The firm has 14 partners, around 200 staff and nine offices across Yorkshire, including Leeds and Bradford. Michael Kennedy, a partner and barrister, will be the COLP and John Durkan, the firm’s managing partner, will be the COFA.
South London and West Sussex firm Mancini & Co has become an ABS, allowing CEO Alessandro Mancini to form a partnership with his non-lawyer wife Vicenza, who currently helps manage the firm, together with his father.
The firm said: “It will also overcome the obstacle in joining mortgage lenders panels, by providing greater access and allowing us to undertake more conveyancing work, rather than have to turn away client’s or pay a third-party solicitor, now we have three partners on board to satisfy lenders’ criteria.”