UK ready for lawyers in supermarkets

Paula Duffy's picture

Legal services will be available at supermarkets and banks in Great Britain after approval of the Legal Services Act.

While at the supermarket or conducting banking transactions, Brits will soon be able to avail themselves of authorized legal service providers.

Announced yesterday by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) it is no longer a good idea without implementation. The time has come to provide more convenient and less intimidating encounters with the legal profession.

What's unique about the arrangement is that the businesses providing the services don't have to be 100% comprised of lawyers. Unlike a law firm, the businesses can have owners as well as managers who have no legal training but are willing to start a business that employs them. They have been dubbed alternative business structures (ABS).

In its announcement, SRA said that it has licensed its first three ABS and it believes the result will be an increase in competition by affording consumers greater choice and access to legal and related services.

The first three ABS approvals went to Co-operative Legal Services, Lawbridge Solicitors Ltd. and John Welch and Stammers.

The Co-op organization already employs 400 people and expects to hire 150 more as a result of being approved to serve as an ABS. It will help the company expand into areas of law it hasn't offered in the past.

Lawbridge is comprised of a sole-practitioner whose spouse acts as the office and business manager of the small practice. John Welch and Stammers is a small firm with seven lawyers and 11 staff members. Both entities will have access to more clients and give them the opportunity to generate a larger amount of new business with less effort.

The road to creating and authorizing ABS was enabled by passage of groundbreaking legislation which was criticized by some as lowering standards for providing legal advice and services. It is why the process of approval takes time and much background due diligence on the identity of those with a stake in the new ABS.

It was ultimately determined that liberalizing the profession and giving those in need more access to what legal needs they may have trumped the concern about how the licensing process.

The SRA has received more than 90 license applications and gives no apologies for its painstaking review process. "We make no apology for ensuring that the systems we have in place are thorough and in some cases, time-consuming. We've had to create a system of authorisation flexible enough to deal with a range of companies with hugely varying corporate structures, but that's also robust enough to apply the same stringent suitability criteria by which traditional firms are judged."

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