Watching the trickle of new alternative business structure licence announcements has been like the opening night of Celebrity Big Brother. We’ve had a couple of famous faces we knew about in advance and a few surprises, but mostly it’s been a case of running to Google to find out who the hell they are.

Some readers have even wondered why we bother reporting on the phenomenon at all.

In truth, it’s a conversation we’ve had a few times in Gazette Towers. Why should Newbie Solicitors get a moment in the spotlight simply because they’ve filled out a few forms, whilst Traditional & Co next door stay in the shadows? However, whether you like it or not, ABSs will radically change the way law firms are financed and run. They may well change public perception and confidence in the profession.

They may even put your firm out of business. If it were me, I’d want to be told at least when the storm is coming, even if I’d no intention of doing anything about it. For those who do want the discussion, what do we know now the ABS mark has shuffled past 20 (19 authorised by the SRA, three by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers)? For a start, it’s a remarkably motley crew of firms, from the all-conquering (at least they hope so) Co-op Legal Services to the highest of high street firms.

Like a Napoleonic surge through northern Europe, the Co-op is intent on marching into existing territory and is not fussed about making friends along the way. The Co-op, for a brand that prides itself on a good-guy reputation, has been curiously belligerent in public, from telling existing firms they keep fees artificially high, to MD Eddie Ryan doing his best Private Fraser impression at the APIL conference in April.

For the purist, a dispiritingly high proportion of firms have buzzword names like ‘new’, ‘plain’ and ‘thinking legal’. Whatever else the future might bring, I hope we haven’t seen the last of names like Wright Hassall. There have been traditional high street firms taking the plunge, presumably spooked by the presence of franchised outlets next door threatening their business.

There have also been interesting new ventures offering fixed fees (Red Bar Law), a property management company entering the legal world (Crabtree Law) and a wide geographical spread from central London to south Wales. Personal injury firms, led by the big hitters Irwin Mitchell and Russell, Jones and Walker (now owned by Aussie PLC Slater & Gordon) take up more than half of the 19 authorised by the SRA.

This is perhaps the most turbulent market of them all, with big changes due from next April. Perhaps the Legal Services Act was just the boost needed in a marketplace reeling from Jackson. Most touching of all is surely the tale of Lawbridge Solicitors, where ABS status allowed the one solicitor to make his wife, the practice manager, a director of the firm.

As the old romantic saying goes, why say it with flowers when you can say it with an ABS?

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