“ABS” and regulatory change – a ‘workout’ for law firms?

by DrivingOffenceBarrister on November 5, 2012

There is no doubt that the current changing regulatory landscape within which all legal practitioners in England and Wales find themselves represents both a threat and a promise. It’s not quite a glass half full vs. glass half empty scenario because it depends upon where, in actuality you and/or your firm is currently positioned. It is clear that the tectonic plates that are currently shifting beneath the surface of the legal profession are causing some to get very excited about their firm’s future possible  ‘exit strategies’, or feel very shaken-up by the prospect of being challenged for ‘bread and butter work’ by insurers and newly configured claims management companies. In terms of reaction, there doesn’t appear to be much of a grey area in between those two polar opposites.

Claims management companies for instance find themselves in the eye of a ‘perfect storm’ in that whilst the Legal Aid and Sentencing Act 2012 (‘the Act’) will ban referral fees, the emergence of the possibility of becoming an ABS means that with the stroke of pen, the completion of an application form and recruitment of a suitably qualified and experienced solicitor, they can go from selling work to actually doing it.

Similarly, in a more ‘hybrid’ way, Saga have recently followed the likes of co-op in looking to deploy their database of insured clients and the goodwill attached to the same in order to build a consumer base of transactional work such as will drafting, probate and conveyancing. The use of the Parabis Group’s law firms will ensure that legal services are delivered by fully regulated practitioners.

On the other hand, bigger firms are looking at the ABS model as being both the challenge and possibility of working out how to leverage new angel investment, a future buy-out or a flotation on AIM or even the stock market proper.

What about the rest of us somewhere in between? The question we have in the context of all of this is not necessarily about whether or not to become an ABS or an LDP.  Rather, what individual law firms have to work out is, in the context of the fact that there is a newly emerging legal framework, how they can get, keep and maintain clients.  After all, that is the one thing that law firms need the most – without clients there is no business.

The answer? Well, as ever, ‘it depends’. In reality, despite polarity of reaction, there is an ‘in between’ place in which we can all maintain and build a business: Competition for the lowest hanging fruit will be very strong indeed but may well still be accessible to smaller firms if they can capitalise on an expert personal service, at the right price in a local market.  For whilst even niche and specialist areas such as driving offence representation have become to some extent commodotised in terms of price, the specialisation required is such that it is difficult to turn it into a volume orientated ‘sell’ for the bigger players.

Or maybe there is another answer? Your thoughts would be appreciated!

Motoring Barrister Direct provide driving offence representation across England and Wales under new rules that permit barristers to provide these services directly to individuals and companies.

William McCarthy is a practising barrister with chambers in Manchester and London.

Previous post:

Next post: