So, now that ‘D-Day’ has come and gone (both the false one and the real one) what has actually happened?
Irwin Mitchell has grabbed the very recent headlines by appointing Glyn Barker, former vice-chairman and managing partner of PwC, with all the connections and knowhow he brings, as its new Chairman-elect. Having declared its intention some time previously to take advantage of the new ownership and investment laws for law firms, this is a positive but sensible and expected step to take in terms of Irwin Mitchell’s long-term plans.
Along with Irwin Mitchell, around 55 other applications have been made to the SRA to form alternative business structures (ABSs). The Co-op, included in this number, have started on an ambitious expansion programme, with family law being a particular focus for growth following its high profile hires at the end of last year. Premier Property Lawyers, one of the largest conveyancing businesses in the country, became the first ever ABS back in October, gaining its licence of course from the Council for Licenced Conveyancers rather than the SRA.
Meanwhile, DLA Piper has become a minority stakeholder in LawVest, a holding company that aims to launch an ABS aimed at small to medium sized entities this year. The company is developing a ‘market-disrupting brand, pricing and service delivery model’ for business clients. Regional accountancy firm Spofforths has stated that it plans to become an ABS and offer clients the full range of private client legal services. ‘Virtual’ law firm Everyman legal has made public its intention to seek admission onto Sharemark – the stock market for small companies – in the last quarter of 2012 so as to fund growth and attract more solicitors to the business. Legal expenses insurer DAS has acquired online legal services company Everything Legal as it prepares for ABS conversion.
In other developments, Quality Solicitors (QS) still attracts the headlines. With the cash injection from private equity house Palamon Capital Partners that it received towards the end of last year, the plan is to have over 1000 branches by the end of this year. Legal Access Points are coming through into WHSmiths stores now, and Craig Holt has also confirmed that QS will introduce online legal services. Talking of online, In-Deed, the AIM listed company that is looking to become an ABS and invest into law firms, has found the going harder than expected in terms of converting online quotes into actual work, so has had to resort to using real people to contact potential clients. QS aren’t the only ones looking at innovative delivery of legal services – the first video-conferencing kiosk to give instant access to a solicitors was launched in the Queensgate Shopping Centre in Peterbrough at the end of last year, the precursor to a network of 120 kiosks in shopping centres around the country by the end of 2012. The service is also available to home users via a Skype-type system that Instant Law have developed.
Oh, and a survey has been released showing that law firms and other legal providers that offer consumers fixed fees “are more likely to have a clear competitive advantage” over those that bill by the hour.
Is anything in this canter through of recent developments a surprise? The short answer is no. For the most part it seems that those in the news are those who had already widely trailed their intentions. The thinking is that many of the 55 (as I write) applicants are perhaps just on a fishing expedition, keen to see what the full-form application will entail. Other developments such as those made by Instant Law (and the yet more franchising brands being set up) are following a pre-existing pattern, following on from continuing and well-known market pressures. So where is the Big Bang, where are the shocks to the system? Does that list of 55 contain any game-changing names or entities? I do hope so…..