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Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) were introduced under the Legal Services Act 2007, with the first ones being licensed by the SRA in 2012. Although there was much talk of “Tesco law” leading up to their introduction - the idea being that huge conglomerates such as supermarkets would expand into the legal services sector, applying their “stack ‘em high sell ‘em cheap” approach and putting high street firms out of business - the reality has been somewhat different.
Although Co-Op has been able to expand its efforts in certain areas and Walmart is testing the waters in Canada, it is legal-focussed technology companies such as Google backed Rocket Lawyer (rather than ABS-empowered supermarkets) which are making the waves in the UK legal market. Nevertheless, the uptake of ABS has increased with the number growing to around 250 in 2014.
The aim of barrister-led ABSs can be a method to enable chambers to compete with traditional law firms, expanding the remit of the public/direct access scheme which, according to Marc Beaumont, Chairman of PABA, has “opened up access to justice for those who cannot afford a solicitor”. However, competition with solicitors is only one factor, and the reasons that chambers might convert to ABSs are often varied and nuanced.
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