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SRA marks its arrival as ABS licensing authority

From left: John Wotton, President of the Law Society; Antony Townsend, SRA Chief Executive; Charles Plant, Chair of the SRA; Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls; Jonathan Djanogly MP, Justice Minister

From left: John Wotton, President of the Law Society; Antony Townsend, SRA Chief Executive; Charles Plant, Chair of the SRA; Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls; Jonathan Djanogly MP, Justice Minister

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been working for more than two years to realise its vision to become a licensor of alternative business structures (ABS).

The SRA expects to start naming the first ABS around the end of February, the culmination of intensive discussions, consultations and preparation. To celebrate the SRA's journey towards regulating ABS, the SRA held a reception for representatives from across the legal sector, consumer groups, the Law Society, other regulators, and a range of parliamentarians from both Houses, as well as the Ministry of Justice.

The event took place at the House of Commons yesterday (Wednesday, 22 February). It was attended by, among others, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly, SRA Chairman Charles Plant and Antony Townsend, SRA Chief Executive.

The Legal Services Act allows firms to deliver reserved legal services even if they do not have a traditional law firm structure. This means that they can have non-lawyer managers, they can attract outside investment, and they can offer a range of legal and non-legal services.

Antony Townsend, SRA Chief Executive, said: "The arrival of ABS should foster a more flexible and innovative market for legal services. It should have a major impact on consumers' experiences of legal services, it should stimulate competition and encourage innovation.

"We are delighted that some 125 firms have started to make applications within the first few weeks of our opening our applications process, and that 33 have already progressed to the completion of the full application."

Justice Minister, Jonathan Djanogly, added: "We have only just crossed the start line as far as ABS potential is concerned. Since the regime was commenced in October there has been a steady wave of interest, and I’m delighted that in just a short amount of time this is gathering good momentum.

"Important as it is for the licensing regime to attract applicants, I recognise the authorisation process must be rigorous to ensure operational robustness. I know that the SRA is busy processing a number of applications from a range of bodies – and I look forward to seeing the first SRA licensed bodies emerge in due course."

The ABS process begins with the submission of a Stage 1 expression of interest form. The SRA's ABS team assesses the information received and creates a bespoke Stage 2 application pack for that organisation comprising specific additional forms depending on the size and nature of the organisation. So far the SRA has received 125 Stage 1 applications, which has led to the return of 33 Stage 2 forms.

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