The English Bar Standards Board has been granted an approval by the UK Legal Standards Board to licence alternative business structures (ABS's) in that jurisdiction. The move follows several other legal regulatory authorities, including the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, receiving similar approval and reflects the increasing competition in the regulation of the legal profession in the UK.
ABS's were introduced in the English jurisdiction under the Legal Services Act, 2007 and allows non-lawyers to own and invest in law firms. The ABS structure has proved successful in the UK, with the SRA alone issuing well over 200 licences since the ABS structure came into force, with household names from KPMG to Eddie Stobart all getting in on the act.
This side of the Irish Sea, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority when it is formed will be required to report to the Minister for Justice on so-called "multi-disciplinary practices", i.e. partnerships between lawyers and non-lawyers. The 2015 Act also provides for limited liability partnerships. Both are steps forward but it is a shame that the reform of the legal profession seen in the UK over the past number of years has yet to be seen here.
The BSB will follow the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Council for Licensed Conveyancers and Intellectual Property Regulation Board in becoming an ABS licensing authority.