Top north-west firm targets external investment after ABS licence provides platform to expand

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3 January 2013

External cash: Stephensons looks to expand beyond north-west

Leading north-west firm Stephensons is seeking external investment as part of its plans to expand beyond the region after receiving its alternative business structure (ABS) licence from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Stephensons has 420 staff in 10 offices across the north-west and managing partner Andrew Welch said the initial objective of the ABS application was to bring non-lawyers into partnership, starting with Neil Ireland-Davies, the firm’s costings manager.

However, longer term the plan is to secure external investment to help grow the business, he said. “To get to a wider market, we need access to capital,” Mr Welch said, citing greater advertising as one potential use of new cash. There are also plans for the firm to expand geographically, he added. “We are ambitious to extend beyond the north-west and ABS status gives us a potential platform to do that.”

Stephensons is the third largest supplier of civil legal aid services to the Legal Services Commission, and Mr Welch said an injection of capital would help build on that at a time when, despite the forthcoming cuts, the commission will still have a multi-million pound budget but is looking to reduce the number of suppliers.

Capital could further help Stephensons cope with the forthcoming Jackson reforms, he said. While the firm is “used to handling volume work in an efficient way”, it needs to maintain this through investing in technology and other facets of the operation.

Also among the raft of firms which have received their ABS licences in the last 10 days is north London practice Gelbergs. As with many ABSs, Gelbergs applied for its licence to reward non-lawyer staff members and is now adding practice manager Gary Zaydner to the partnership, making it five strong.

However, senior partner Graeme Taylor told Legal Futures that the firm has set up a working committee to look at how the status could help it grow, with a particular focus on the possibility of “teaming up with other professionals” and forming a multi-disciplinary practice. He stressed that at the moment there are no particular plans in place.

Twenty-partner Liverpool firm EAD Solicitors has become an ABS to make its finance director a partner, but senior partner Steve Cornforth said that as a firm which works with trade unions and handles a lot of personal injury (PI) work, the licence could help it adapt to the changing PI world.

He said the firm has held “very tentative discussions” with some of its big work providers about developing long-term relationships, echoing the approach of leading trade union firm Thompsons, which became an ABS late last year.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has now issued 59 ABS licences, including some multiple licences for firms with subsidiaries.


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