Today marks a seismic shift in the law world. The introduction of non-law businesses – they’re called ABSs or alternative business structures – on October 6th under the Legal Services Act 2007 is set to, as one commentator put it, ‘blow apart the established conventions’ of the law. There has been much hype in the legal and business press about the ongoing deregulation of legal services. You can read what it means for consumers in David Edmonds’ article. Edmonds is chairman of the Legal Services Board.
Lawyers have likened today to the City’s Big Bang, the mass deregulation of financial services and banking in the 1980s. ABSs allows for both the external ownership of law firms and the floating of legal practices on the stock exchange. Non-law businesses will be able to move into legal services and retail giants like the Co-op, banks such as the Halifax, and consumer groups like Which? are all lining up and wanting a piece of the action. The movement has been dubbed Tesco Law – although the superstore doesn’t appear to be interested in moving into the law.
It is a hugely divisive issue for lawyers, especially those working in high street firms who fear competition from established brands will do for them what out-of-town superstores did for the corner shop. Research from the pollster YouGov earlier this year revealed that three in five consumers would happily go to household consumer brands for legal help (19% chose Barclays, 18% the Co-op and AA, and 15% said Virgin). Premier Property Lawyers, one of the largest conveyancing businesses in the country, was the first off the starting blocks and became the first ever ABS, as reported in Legal Futures.
October 6th is also the launch date for www.thejusticegap.com.