Seven-partner Gloucestershire high street firm Langley Wellington has become the 15th alternative business structure to be licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority since licensing began in March 2012.
It joins firms ranging in size from Kent sole practitioner Lawbridge to Co-operative Legal Services, with plans to grow to 3,000 staff, City firm Winckworth Sherwood and national firm Russell Jones & Walker.
Langley Wellington equity partner Andrew Moston, who last year became a non-lawyer approved manager when the firm converted to a legal disciplinary practice (LDP), said: 'We like to lead, which is why we were one of the first firms to apply for ABS status. It will allow us to bring new ideas to the front.'
SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: 'We expect to authorise a number of ABSs over the coming weeks and are working with prospective firms to help them with their applications.
'Our authorisation system has been built to be flexible enough to deal with a range of organisations with hugely varying corporate structures and robust enough to apply the same stringent suitability criteria by which traditional firms are judged. We make no apology for ensuring that the systems we have in place are thorough, but will continue to make improvements to the process as we gain further experience.'
An ABS is a business providing regulated reserved legal activities, but which has either non-lawyer owners and managers, or both. Prior to the advent of LDPs, which allowed, for example, a paralegal to become an equity partner, law firms had to be owned and managed by lawyers only. All LDPs must now apply for ABS status.
The non-lawyer ownership and management of legal services providers - under the Legal Services Act 2007 - was one of a raft of reforms designed to liberalise the regulation and provision of legal services in England and Wales. The reforms were designed to increase competition and provide consumers with greater choice and access to legal and related services.