A year ago all the talk was about who would be the first-movers in the ABS market. What the last year has shown is that it has been possible to come up with innovative ideas and structures within the existing regulatory environment, without having to wait for the new, more flexible regime. Of course some of the recent developments have taken place in anticipation of the changes, in that they wll be looking to take advantage of the opportunities under the Legal Services Act once ABSs are authorised. This includes In-Deed, the new online conveyancing service launched by the founder of property website Rightmove, which has stated that some of the money it raises from its intended AIM float could be used to help panel firms that need to invest in training, technology and customer service. Other recent developments have taken place in response to the changes provided for the in the Legal Services Act - I would include in this Quality Solicitors, with its emphasis on the quality and professionalism that clients (or should that be consumers) will be getting.
In fact there has been so much activity in the market that one almost wonders why the profession needed the Legal Services Act to galvanise it into action. An even more interesting question is the extent to which these moves are motivated by the upcoming regulatory changes, as opposed to the other market pressures which are so widely commented on, for example: the pressure on fees stemming from the strained economic environment; the rise of legal process outsourcers and legal publishers; the increased demands for improved client service and online capabilities from the younger generations; and so on. Whatever the case, when you distil down what has been happening, it's quite an eye-opener. Look at this brief list of what new themes have been emerging:
- national networks, both non-branded (such as GetSolicitors) and branded (such as Quality Solicitors);
- online legal advice portals (such as Expert Answers);
- referral services (such as Bid4Fees);
- find a lawyer websites; and
- the comparison websites (such as Wigster, LegalCompare.com).