Discussions about Alternative Business Structures (ABS) in law firms often produce a lot of spirited debates, especially when the proposals about this idea are discussed by American Bar Association entities. Generally ABS refers to various different ideas about non-lawyer ownership or management of law firms. Last year when the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services published an issues paper and solicited comments on ABS, various state bar associations and other lawyer organizations reacted strongly and filed comments opposing ABS. Those with an interest can read the Issue paper and comments on the Commission's website. For example, the ABA Family Law Section comment was "On behalf of the Section of Family Law, we pose the following question: WHAT PART OF “NO!” DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND? We remain unalterably opposed to these repeated, previously failed efforts to foist ABS upon our profession or our ethics."
It is easy to understand the concerns from the legal profession. The practice of law cannot ethically be just about profit-and-loss decision making. So there are concerns that a non-lawyer administrator might tell a lawyer to not do any more work on an matter with a critical hearing date approaching because the client's retainer had been exhausted or tell a lawyer to unethically do more work on a matter where a solution was found relatively quickly with limited expense. But the negative reaction to ABS proposals is often so strong that one wonders if those responding have completely considered the potential benefits.
Our Digital Edge podcast this month is "Will Alternative Business Structures in U.K. Law Firms Cross the Pond?" It is instructive to listen to the story of a major U.K. law firm that has become an ABS, both how they undertook this path and why the lawyers are pleased that they did so. David Beech is the CEO of the professional services firm Knights in the U.K. David has led the business, originally a law firm, since 2011. His vision for Knights is to become the leading regional professional services business in the U.K. He was an outstanding podcast guest and this is a very worthwhile podcast.
If you are one of those lawyers who thinks this is a terrible idea, then that is all the more reason to listen to this podcast. You might learn something. Maybe you will learn of some benefits and changes your firm can incorporate without becoming an ABS. After all, it is not like the proponents of these changes want to allow for this to destroy the legal profession.