ABS firms are more productive, really?

by Heather Townsend on November 4, 2013 · 1 comment

The Legal Services Board has done some research where they have found that ABS firms are more productive, than traditional legal firms and better at handling complaints.

Now, this really doesn’t surprise me. After all, ABS firms are:

  • often new entrants to the marketplace who are prepared to challenge the norms of how legal practices are meant to operate and behave
  • firms with forward thinking management, particularly if they have transitioned from an LLP or ‘normal legal practice’

ABS firms often have the opportunity to build a law firm from the ground up which means they are not inheriting historical, technological and political inefficiencies which they can’t change in the short term.

Therefore, the research results doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is the 24 comments (at time of writing) to the article published in the law society gazette.

Of course anyone who takes the time to comment on an article like this has a personal agenda. But it is incredibly revealing to see how prevalent arrogance and ignorance is within a few of the commentators. For example:

This is the first comment which made an eyebrow raise:

Ask any client if they would like to see a firm of qualified solicitors in traditional practice or a firm where some are qualified….and lots aren’t, and you’ll have some clients running for the hills.

On the surface of this, most sane and rational people would agree with this. However, how many clients willingly accept that they will have a legal secretary, junior or trainee (i.e. unqualified) member of staff working on their business. Of course, their work is then reviewed by a qualified solicitor. How is this different to the set-up in many ABS firms? Or specialist conveyancing firms? Do you really need to be a qualified solicitor to do ALL of the work involved in a client engagement?

I love this comment as well:

The only need an ABS meets is profit. Are you seriously suggesting that it is better for the public to allow non legal professionals in to drive profits? Really? How ignorant and rather blinkered of you…. unless you’re a non-qualified person reaping the benefits of course – how wonderful to come into a centuries old profession without lifting a finger or having to undertake any training.

So, if ABS firms are only there to make a profit, then partners in legal firms are not there to make a profit? Seriously, I think not. Actually, what I see is that allowing ABS is allowing non-legal professionals in to provide a better service for the consumer/client. The profits per equity partner at some of the top 100 law firms are absolutely eye-watering, and built on business models which may not be applicable for today’s new generation of lawyers and clients. (Notice how I chose my words carefully…)

This one is an eye-opener as well:

Excepting for the rich, the ABS creation appears designed to destroy solicitors as a professional concept, substituting faceless factories, which can easily go into administration.Only the rich, or well connected, can be assured the professional , unprescribed, personal legal service, based on recommendation and reputation that was once afforded to the general public.

In fact, I’m a little taken aback to actually make a comment about this bit of ignorance, who seems to have lost touch with what clients actually want from their lawyer. Firstly, from my own experiences the personal services that was once afforded to the general public, if you didn’t qualify for legal aid, was pretty expensive. Is it any wonder that the consumer and client (depending on whether you are B2B or B2C focused) is actively looking at the legal services being provided by the likes of Riverview Law and the Co-op?

It also appears from many of the commentators:

Interesting comment Ashley Balls. Interesting to see you’re not listed as a Solicitor on the SRA site too…. easy to criticise something you’re not part of isn’t it?

That you have to be a qualified solicitor to have an opinion of merit on the state of the legal sector. Hits head against brick wall repeatedly… With this sort of opinion fairly common within the legal profession, is it any wonder that so many legal firms are on the brink of collapsing?

Many of the commentators have picked up the fact that ABS firms often offer less face-to-face contact for clients and are like factories and this will eventually destroy the profession. (Their words, not mine). If you look at the uptake of cloud accounting firms, it is fascinating to see how an equivalent profession has adapted to how clients now want to engage with their professional advisor. Most clients of accountants know that juniors will be doing their work, and decide on how much face-to-face contact they actually want and are prepared to pay for…

Do add your comment to the bottom of this blog post… I’d love to know if I am a lone voice…

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  • abogadoNZ

    I think some lawyers have very poor memories and have forgotten that not so long ago there was a species called the managing clerk. As for clients running for the hills on discovering they may not have a solicitor advising them – it never worried them in the past. One hard nosed example – back in the 70′s/80′s few would have disputed that one of the top 5 commercial property lawyers in London was a managing clerk who had failed his Legal Executive examinations. He was the de facto head of commercial property at a large firm and appointed new partners when required. Were the clients or firms on the other side of the transaction concerned – in a word no.

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