Wednesday 11 July 2012 by Jonathan Rayner

Law firms have for too long relied upon 'closed clubs of equity partners' to keep fees artificially high, a speaker from one of the first wave of alternative business structures told the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) Symposium in Manchester today.

James Atkin, head of legal risk and compliance at Co-operative Legal Services, said that such partners have long used the status of solicitor in a 'negative way' to further their firm's interest at the expense of clients. The present education and training system was producing too many over-qualified graduates who were 'unlikely to find an adequately paid position to repay the debts accumulated while becoming overly qualified in the first place,' he said.

Atkin said: 'And why do solicitors have to sit through hours of continuing professional development which have no relevance to the area in which we work? The legal landscape has changed and, with the advent of alternative business structures, new project management and consumer-focused skills are required. It is irrelevant to the client if a solicitor has 30 years post-qualification experience. One size does not fit all and the client wants a solution to his or her problems.'

ABSs are uniquely suited to providing a complete and ethical service to clients, Atkins said, because as part of a larger organisation, it is likely that they already have equality and diversity policies, case management systems and all the other attributes of 'big business'.

The Legal Education and Training Review is being jointly undertaken by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards (IPS). It is intended to be the most substantial review of legal education and training since 1971.

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