The Solicitors Regulation Authority is to accept from today applications from organisations wanting to be licensed as alternative business structures.
The SRA had been formally designated as an ABS licensing authority from 23 December 2011, but decided to delay implementing the regime until the New Year.
The first stage of the process will see applicant organisations complete an online expression of interest form for submission to the authority.
The SRA’s ABS team, which includes officers experienced in supervision, authorisation and identifying risks, will then assess that information and produce a bespoke application pack. This pack will include additional forms, designed to obtain further information on the size and nature of the applicant organisation.
Ann Morgan, who manages the SRA’s ABS team, said: "The bespoke forms are necessarily very detailed and aim to obtain significant amounts of information from the applicants. It stands to reason that this search for information will draw out further questions that we might need to ask.”
She added that the SRA would be “rigorous and robust - as robust as we are with traditional law firms”.
This will include asking for the employment of history of everyone seeking to be regulated by the authority, going back five years.
On receipt of the relevant information, the SRA will consider the fee to be charged for the application, and subsequently assess the information for approval.
The fee assessment will include a flat fee of £2,000, plus a further £150 for each candidate that goes through the process. A further fee will be payable by the applicant body if the SRA decides to give it a licence.
The SRA said the normal approval period would be six months from the date of receiving a complete application, although this period can be extended to enable further checks to be carried out.
The regulator said it hoped some decisions would be made much quicker than this. Decisions on authorisation will be taken by a senior member of the ABS team.
Appeals will initially be heard internally by the SRA. However, if the case is not resolved, it will be heard by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The first body to become an ABS licensing authority was the Council for Licensed Conveyancers in October 2011.
Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: “The addition of the Solicitors Regulation Authority marks another major milestone for UK legal services and the future of Alternative Business Structures.
“Customers will find legal services more accessible, providing a much more competitive and efficient service.”
Further information can be found on the SRA’s website. www.sra.org.uk/abs