TV property guru Sarah Beeny has welcomed alternative business structures (ABSs) as a “positive step forward” so long as they deliver increased choice, lower prices and better service for consumers – but warned that their regulation must be robust to maintain standards.
Ms Beeny, presenter of Channel 4’s Property Ladder, said “the jury is still out on whether this is a threat or an opportunity to the existing legal profession”.
She explained: “I believe the real challenge will be regulation and ensuring the consumer’s interests are best served by opening up service delivery.”
Writing in the Chronicle, the journal of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, she acknowledged that some law firms “may well feel the pinch” because larger organisations with big marketing budgets may create one-stop shops. “Smaller high street firms may be able to offer a personalised service and perhaps have a great customer base – but may not be able to compete with a stronger backed competitor that has the benefits of increased exposure and support.”
Ms Beeny said there were nonetheless opportunities for smaller practices, which she expected to be “proactive in building relationships with blue-chip organisations – the supermarkets and banks who are enticed into offering legal services under the new regulations”. She predicted that there could be some “lucrative partnerships and alliances being formed in the near future – certainly as these companies seek to gain a foothold in the legal services marketplace”.
“Furthermore, we are living in an increasingly online work and e-conveyancing and e-legal may well be areas where large investment takes place – generating more online legal work and advice. I think we are likely to see the emergence of some big players in this area, as the legal industry finally embraces the online revolution.”
But Ms Beeny warned that it was important to ensure the changes best serve the consumer. “Estate agencies, for example, already claim commission by offering regular services such as energy performance certificates, and there is potentially scope to be taking an even greater percentage from the unsuspecting consumer through legal work. It will be down to regulators to ensure that the quality of legal services on offer remains high.”
She concluded: “It will be fascinating to see what the uptake of ABS is over the next year and what changes and innovation it leads to. Provided that the eventual winner is the consumer via increased choice, lower prices and better service, I see this as a positive step forward.”