Four years ago last week the Solicitors Regulation Authority began accepting applications for alternative business structure status. Legal sector seers spoke of the march of the ‘big brands’ as the door was thrown open to non-lawyer ownership and investment.
Lawyers can learn much from capitalism’s pioneers, as Roger Smith argues, but if there is to be a revolution, it has been postponed.
Consider its putative vanguard. Co-operative Legal Services – afflicted by brand contagion and in hair-shirt recovery mode after growing ‘too fast’. Private-equity-primed Parabis – gone, leaving a mountain of debt. QualitySolicitors - also funded by private equity - paring its losses following boardroom upheaval and a sharp downward adjustment in expectations. For erstwhile stock market darling Slater and Gordon, meanwhile, the traumas of 2015 need not bear repetition here.
One could go on.
So what to conclude? There have been successful innovators among the 450 ABS licensees so far, of course. But liberalisation has shown there is no ‘quick buck’ to be made in the law. This sector is far from the sclerotic business environment free market ideologues supposed.
Whisper it quietly, but in adapting to the profession’s own ‘big bang’, ‘traditional’ law firms are proving more than up to the challenge.