Friday, July 29, 2011

Waiting for ABS....or Godot?


October will pass without Alternative Business Structures and it looks likely it will be the end of the year before we see them, unless you are a licensed conveyancer that is. In part this is due to the way parliamentary business is done and also to the manner in which appeals against Solicitors Regulation Authority decisions will be conducted. There is also the vexed question of what criminal convictions have to be disclosed by potential investors in ABS.

I'm sure we'll get there in the end even if parts of the legal profession wish this would all go away.

I was struck by Dan Bindman's column on Legal Futures, "Are you an ABS optimist or pessimist?" It's worth reading for the views represented on the potential effects of ABS. Dan ultimately says,
One thing is certain: the new entrants will have little regard for broader notions of access to justice, or the social value of having an independent legal profession to police the three-way interface between the state, the market and the individual.
We don't know this of course. And Dave Edmonds, chair of the Legal Services Board, comments,
Dan Bindman’s article poses the right questions. But I quarrel strongly with his assertion that new entrants will “have little regard for broader notions of access to justice”. Why will they not? Many of the most ambitious and innovative lawyers operating in the present marketplace have a very high commitment to this fundamental cause. My belief is that extending the ability of citizens to secure affordable legal advice from new forms of law firms (which will be in the main run by lawyers and properly regulated by regulators for whom access to justice is an underlying principle) will enhance access to justice, not diminish it.
Read the other comments also--there's good stuff there.

When it comes to dynamic change the legal profession has always been in the vanguard of resistance. It's almost a reflex action. Legal aid was resisted when introduced in the 1940s. Then lawyers learned how it would benefit them. They love it now! But that's going.

Lawyers were opposed to neighbourhood law centres because they thought they would take away business. Instead they promoted it. Their funding is being cut now.

The legal profession has a good eye for resisting winners and on that basis I think they might be on to something with their opposition to ABS. Just don't leave too late...
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