05 Aug, 2011

Law Society President flags up potential of ABS to American Bar Association


Law Society President John Wotton will today (5th August) tell the American Bar Association’s Commission on Ethics that alternative business structures can provide new opportunities for the legal sector, if delivered properly.


The President’s comments will come in a speech at the ABA’S Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada as the Commission on Ethics looks at the possibility of introducing ABS to the USA.


With the legal sector now months away from seeing the introduction of ABS in England & Wales, which will allow external investment and ownership of law firms for the first time, the Law Society President will share his perceptions of ABS with the Commission and other legal sector leaders from around the world.


John Wotton will tell the Commission: “In our view, ABS may in practice provide a means for widening access to legal services by introducing cutting edge customer service practices,  operating longer opening hours and providing more services via modern communication methods – although all of these can be, and in some cases already are, achieved by traditionally-structured firms.


“We cannot predict what form of business model will be most widely adopted but it is our expectation that as long as there is a level playing field in terms of regulation, firms will seek out the most advantageous structure for themselves.


“It is of supreme importance to the Law Society that ABS are subject to strict controls on fitness to own and are subject to all the regulatory requirements applying to other legal practices so that  the high professional standards and values which currently underpin the provision of legal services by solicitors are not undermined.


“It has long been our view that it is imperative that protections enjoyed by consumers who choose ABS should be the same as those provided by law firms.”


The Commission is interested in regulatory developments in England & Wales and is keen for the Law Society to feed into its consultations. The Society has already submitted papers and met with the Commission on a number of occasions in relation to the changing legal services market.


In addition to his speech today, the President will be holding meetings with bar leaders from key jurisdictions during the conference, including the president of the Korean Bar Association – a jurisdiction which has just opened its legal services market to EU law firms through the EU-Korea free trade agreement and is a market of great interest to E&W firms. He will also be meeting Latin American bar leaders, a market of growing interest to our members and one in which the Law Society has been increasing active through events both in the region and at home.


Other meetings include the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations, the DC Bar and the German Federal Bar.



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