A London firm of chartered surveyors has become an alternative business structure (ABS) with plans for a legal arm, in what is believed to be the first venture of its kind.
South East Leasehold, which has offices in south London and Worthing, specialises in residential lease extensions and freehold purchases across the south-east. A sister company offers residential and commercial surveying services.
Receiving its ABS licence from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), effective from 11 July, the firm will continue to trade as South East Leasehold. It plans to launch a legal services add-on to its existing offering in the next two months.
It joins accountants, financial advisers and construction professionals as a non-legal business setting up a legal arm.
Director and chartered surveyor Simon Brook, who will be the ABS’s head of finance and administration, told Legal Futures that he was concerned that “negativity” surrounding ABSs until they had become established might affect valued relationships the company has with solicitors’ firms. But he concluded: “I think it will be fine: we might lose some work but we might gain some work, so swings and roundabouts.”
Adding legal capability to the business was “a natural step”, he said, although he added: “We are going to see how things go, but the main bulk of our work will be surveying; that’s what it’s always been.”
Mr Brook stressed that the surveyors had not worked out exactly what shape the legal business would take but he envisaged recruiting a lawyer at some point. “We will be looking at getting someone in – that would be the ideal and they can handle the legal work, but that will be a long way off.”
South East’s head of legal practice, Giles Maberly, is a consultant solicitor specialising in commercial property at multi-office Surrey-based firm TWM Solicitors. He said the ABS was “Mr Brook’s show” and that he was aged 70, and did not expect to occupy the role for long after the business was up and running.
Meanwhile, existing ABS Knights Solicitors, the Staffordshire firm that received investment from James Caan’s Hamilton Bradshaw, has hired a team of six town planners to support and grow the firm’s real estate practice.
It said: “This is the first non-law hires for Knights as the firm begins to realise its private equity investment and ABS status to offer clients a portfolio of legal and related professional services under one roof.”
The team of six planners, of which three are chartered, is led by Carl Copestake and join from specialist planning and development practice John Rose Associates. Knights has now hired 50 people in the past year as it looks to double its turnover in the next six years.
Managing partner David Beech said: “We are responding to client demand and the changing environment in which legal services operate by offering one-stop solutions for legal and related issues.
“This is our first major ‘non-law’ hire of an entire team with a highly specialist skill-set and lays the foundation of how we plan to offer integrated solutions to our clients who are demanding convenience and more efficient service delivery. The new planning team means we now offer a full range of services across real estate and we plan to repeat this kind of offering through our business in the future as a key limb of our growth strategy.”
Elsewhere, two other property practices have been granted ABS licences recently by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers: Manchester-based Conveyancing Expert Limited and Newport, South Wales-based Convey Law.
Conveyancing Expert’s head of legal practice is Gavin Wall, a solicitor who was formerly regulated by the SRA. He said the move was to upgrade non-lawyer director, Laura Wilson.
He added that the CLC was “brilliant” as a regulator and was “more like a parent” in that it provided advice rather than heavy-handedly enforced rules of practice.
Gareth Richards, legal director of Convey Law, said the firm had pursued an ABS licence for the “kudos” it conferred and had no specific plans for the business. “At the moment the market is obviously changing constantly in terms of the further provision of legal services, and obviously we just want to broaden our horizons and make sure we are ahead of the game,” he said.