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Prepare for ABSs, minister tells law firms

22 September 2010

Lawyers should prepare for ABSs, legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly (pictured) has said as he confirmed the government's commitment to the introduction of the new regime.

Waving aside earlier rumours that the coalition might not implement the ABS provisions of the Legal Services Act, Djanogly said “no one should be under the illusion that I wish to delay ABS introduction, and all lawyers should be preparing for its introduction”.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting at the Law Society, the legal aid minister said the roll out of the alternative business structure regime was part of the government’s drive to remove the regulatory burden on businesses.

For the first time he confirmed unambiguously that the government’s reducing regulation committee had “given clearance for continuation of the works streams relating to implementation of the 2007 Act – which includes clearance to proceed with ABS”, he said.

As a result, the establishment of ABSs was now officially “one of the key priorities in the programme of work relating to the 2007 Act”.

The confirmation was accompanied by the veiled caveat, however, that the minister would be prepared to delay implementation of the regime if he was not satisfied that an appropriate framework was in place.

The Legal Services Board has scheduled 6 October 2011 as the ‘go live’ day for ABSs but Djanogly told Solicitors Journal that he regarded the target date as a guide.

He would only give the new regime the green light, he said, “if the framework offers appropriate guarantees for the protection of consumers and access to justice”.

He also suggested that the processes involved to give effect to the Act could take longer than anticipated.

“Licensing authorities can only be designated by order,” he said. “The MoJ will draft the orders and lay them, subject to ministerial approval, before parliament. A commencement order will also need to be laid before the ABS regime becomes operational and again this will be subject to ministerial approval.”

But he insisted that the liberalisation of the legal services market set out in the Act was a positive move for the profession, in particular for smaller firms.

“Risks to small or inefficient legal suppliers may be mitigated by the possibility provided by ABS that practitioners from different professions would be able to join up to ensure that it is economically viable for them to continue to provide legal and associated services, and to gain from efficiency savings,” he said. “I forsee that those firms that take a proactive approach will benefit.”

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