Originally posted on 11 Dec 2013

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) is expected to be granted the power to license alternative business structures (ABS) by the end of this week, it has been revealed.

Accountants’ entry into the legal services market is one of the biggest developments in the sector following the Legal Services Act 2007, which allowed non-lawyers to run and own law firms for the first time.

The Law Society Gazette this morning (11 December 2013) reported that:
  • David Edmonds, chair of the oversight regulator the Legal Services Board, used a speech this week to confirm the ICAEW has finally completed all hurdles to be designated as an approved regulator.
  • Members of the ICAEW – including at least one of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms – are now expected to make their applications to offer legal services to existing clients.
  • Approval ’will enable firms to offer a more integrated service to clients who, in non-contentious cases, will be able to use a single adviser which in turn should have an impact on the overall cost of the service for consumers and increase competition,’ Edmonds said. ‘This is a first step for the ICAEW and it is a very considerable step for liberalisation in the legal services market.’
  • Edmonds said the LSB has tested the application, which was submitted last December, against the criteria set down in the Legal Services Act. Once the LSB has formally approved the application, likely to happen at the end of this week, it will be left to the Lord Chancellor to rubber-stamp.
  • Last month the ICAEW wrote to the LSB asking for permission to amend part of its application, warning that any further delay could put off the final authorisation until next autumn. It appears the LSB agreed to that request to ensure the process is completed more quickly.
  • The ICAEW will join the SRA, Council for Licensed Conveyancers and the Intellectual Property Regulation Board as bodies authorised to approve ABS applications.

Two of the UK’s major accountancy firms have already confirmed they are considering whether to become providers of regulated legal services.

Speaking on Monday evening to the Regulatory Policy Institute’s Hertford Seminars in Regulation, David Edmonds said the ICAEW’s rationale for making its application is to allow its members to be authorised to do probate activities alongside related services they currently provide. He added that in time the ICAEW will also regulate litigation and other legal services.

Martin Pollins
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