The bar regulator is reporting ‘encouraging’ interest in alternative business structures, which it expects to begin licensing very soon.

But the organisation is cautious about going toe to toe with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to attract registrants, stressing that the profile of the ABS the bar is seeking to regulate will be very different.

The Bar Standards Board was approved as a licensing body for ABSs in March but is awaiting a parliamentary rubber stamp to begin doing so.

At last Saturday’s Bar Conference, director general Dr Vanessa Davies (pictured) said this is ‘weeks away’, with the body last week completing an external ABS pilot project which raised ‘no major issues’. 

In the last 18 months the BSB has licensed 65 ‘entities’ - bodies owned and managed by lawyers. However, initial interest came mainly from single-person operations looking to exploit tax advantages that have now largely disappeared.

More recently, said head of supervision and authorisation Cliodhna Judge, the profile of new bar entities has become larger and more sophisticated.

Asked if the bar regulator will compete with the SRA for ABS business through cheaper fees, Davies was equivocal.

She pointed out that the BSB’s policy on the businesses it will regulate is more tightly drawn, being based on the ‘traditional services’ offered by the bar. Differences relating to client money and indemnity insurance also distort the playing field.

The board’s authorisation fees vary depending on the number of individuals practising through the entity.