The Solicitors Regulation Authority has too few resources to handle the licensing of alternative business structures (ABSs) and should ‘triple in size or work 24 hours a day,’ the senior partner of one of the four firms licensed this week told the Gazette.
The four new ABSs are two-partner Lancashire firm Mulderrigs; four-partner Manchester firm Amelans; 18-partner Swansea firm John Collins & Partners (JCP); and 40-partner City firm Winckworth Sherwood.
Mulderrigs managing director Paul Mulderrig said his firm had converted to an ABS to ‘protect the value of a family asset’ by enabling his wife to have an interest in the firm. He told the Gazette: ‘Until now, if I dropped dead, Mrs Mulderrig would have had to have a fire sale of the business that I’ve devoted 20 years to building.
‘The ABS allows her to have an interest in the firm. It is a joint asset now – and that thought gives me peace of mind. I’m surprised more high street firms are not going down the ABS route.’
‘We are not actively seeking external funding, but if a hedge fund happens along and offers us a couple of billion, we’ll give it serious consideration.’
Amelans and JCP had both become legal disciplinary practices in order to make non-lawyers members equity partners, and are therefore required to convert to ABS status.
Amelans senior partner Andrew Twambley said: ‘Becoming an ABS has given us a whole new outlook on how we can go forward, using our ABS status as a springboard.’
Muderrig and Twambley criticised the application process. Mulderrig said the paperwork was a ‘disgrace’ but he praised the ‘thorough and helpful’ SRA staff.
Twambley complained about the ‘long drawn-out process’ and said: ‘People don’t realise how deeply the SRA goes into detail. We are a four-partner firm. What must the process be like for a complex, multi-tasking, multinational firm?
'The SRA needs more resources - it needs to triple in size or work 24 hours a day,’ he said.
Nobody was available for comment at Winckworth Sherwood.