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Alternative business structures and new regulatory approach come into force

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A new regime of outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) for the solicitors profession has come into force, marking a move away from the traditional prescriptive approach.

Today also heralds the launch of alternative business structures, allowing outside investment in law firms and multi-disciplinary practices for the first time.

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said the regulator had worked to a punishing schedule to deliver the new OFR regime. “But we are not complacent, while we have laid the OFR foundations, our real work now begins,” he added.

Chris Kenny, chief executive of the Legal Services Board, welcomed the SRA's revised approach. He said: "Moving to outcomes-focused regulation represents an important shift in focus for the SRA, for solicitors and those they serve. It promotes ethical behaviour and innovation by placing responsibility for achieving regulatory outcomes squarely on the shoulders on legal services providers and giving them the freedom to achieve them in different ways."

The Law Society issued a practice note last week, giving an overview of OFR ahead of its implementation.

Chief executive Desmond Hudson said: “Most firms have been identifying and managing risks for a long time. Yet the demands of the Legal Services Act and OFR means that all firms – whatever their shape, size or location – will have to prioritise risk management.”

Leicester-based Premier Property Lawyers, a subsidiary of myhomemove, meanwhile became the first ABS, regulation website Legal Futures revealed. Premier Property Lawyers is regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is not expected to issue its first ABS licences until early 2012, however, with the delays blamed on problems with the parliamentary process.

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly insisted that the changes brought in under the Legal Services Act would make legal services more accessible.

He said: “This is a landmark day for the UK legal industry. Our legal services are already rated among the best in the world, used by millions of people around the globe as well as in the UK, and these changes will set them up to move to new heights. They will enable firms to set up multi-disciplinary practices and provide opportunities for growth.

“Potential customers will find legal services become more accessible, more efficient and more competitive.”