Thursday 06 December 2012 by John Hyde

Trade union personal injury firm Thompsons has become one of the biggest practices yet to be licensed as an alternative business structure.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority today confirmed the firm's application had been successful, along with that of Thompsons-owned subsidiary firm BBH Legal.

The move will be viewed as an attempt to prepare the firm for next year's ban on referral fees and cuts in personal injury costs.

It also opens the door for a more formal link-up with major trade unions, which have been key partners of the firm since it was founded in 1921.

The ABS move comes on the back of a financial report for 2011/12 that saw operating profit fall by 19.6% and LLP members' earnings drop 21%.

In that report, chief executive Stephen Cavalier said the government's planned changes to the personal injury sector will affect the firm's income, but with a delayed impact until October 2013 because of the nature of the cases.

He added that the firm expects to keep all its commitments to stakeholders without resorting to short-term borrowing or using its overdraft facility.

Profits fell from £20.9m to £16.8m during 2011/12, mirroring a fall in underlying turnover of nearly £5m to £79.5m.

Income was affected by the acquisition of Merseyside high street firm BBH Solicitors by BBH (Legal Services), a wholly owned subsidiary of Thompsons. The deal was concluded in August 2011 and the full settlement of £2.69m paid by July 2012.

BBH (Legal Services) generated a loss of £417,000 in the year ended 30 April 2012.

Thompsons is one of the biggest personal injury firms in the country with a total staff in April 2012 of 1,140, of whom 673 were listed in the financial report as executives. It operates from 23 offices across England and Wales.

Staff costs rose from £43.4m to £44.4m in 2011/12.

David Stothard, who became branch manager of Thompsons' London head office in May, has been registered as the new head of legal practice, with the ABS licence effective from 1 January.

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