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There is a mystique to the Bar of England and Wales, designed to present a timeless image of legal practitioners. Working in rabbit warrens around the Temple, wearing robes and a horsehair wig, and dealing with only the highest levels of legal thought, it is a façade that conceals some very radical ambitions for change.
This month the Bar Standards Board released its Consultation Paper on the use of alternative business structures (ABS) in the Bar and their application to the Legal Services Board to become a regulator of such entities.
So what is an ABS?
Essentially, it’s about shared back office services for a legal business that plans to advance in multiple markets but needs to keep the different arms separate enough for regulatory reasons. It is also the antithesis of what is sometimes called the “now you see it, now you don’t” nature of a traditional chambers, the unincorporated association that may act like a company but ultimately places responsibilities back on individual members.
As you may guess, the interest in ABS-type organisations is primarily about stealing away work from other markets. I
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