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First three ABS applications approved by SRA in England

28 March 2012

Co-operative Legal Services and two high street legal firms today became the first practices to win approval from the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England & Wales to operate as alternative business structures (ABS).

They are not the first licensed ABS practices overall, as the Council for Licensed Conveyancers became able to grant authorisations from last October, whereas the SRA could only do so from January this year, but most applications are likely to go through the solicitors' body.

The Co-op has for some years publicly stated its ambition to operate its legal services arm, which already employs 400 people, as an ABS. It is planning further recruitment to support a move into family law. Legal services managing director Eddie Ryan said the Co-op was "committed to playing a leading role in this new era by offering straightforward value-for-money expert legal services, backed by an ethos of social responsibility”.

Also approved today are John Welch and Stammers, a two partner (seven fee earner) firm from Witney, Oxfordshire, who plan to make their non-solicitor practice manager the firm's managing partner; and Lawbridge Solicitors Ltd, of Sidcup, Kent, whose sole principal and fee earner Michael Pope wants to make his wife Alison, who is his practice manager, a shareholding director.

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: "Some people may be surprised that there are two high street practices with a handful of staff among the first wave of ABS organisations that we’ve authorised. But we’ve always said that ABS offers options for all firms, not just large organisations."

About 60 applications for approval as ABS have been submitted to the SRA.

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