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Price Bailey the first firm to form an ABS

THE UK’s FIRST accounting firm to be officially recognised to operate as an alternative business structure has been revealed.

Price Bailey, ranked 30 in Accountancy Age’s Top 50 +50 survey and based in the south-east, has been awarded ABS status by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. As an ABS, it can offer legal services, with potentially a corporate structure containing a mix of accounting and legal partners.

A qualified solicitor, Victoria Pratley, has been recruited by Price Bailey as head of payroll solutions. The appointment gives the firm a broader base of employment advice services for its clients.

For managing director Peter Gillman (pictured right) the appointment was “serendipitous”, he told Accountancy Age.

“We couldn’t help but notice that ABSs were being formed, then we advertised for a payroll head and an employment lawyer applied – who interviewed really well,” said Gillman.

As part of providing legal advice to clients, the firm must make sure the legal advice is independent of the firm’s accountants. The firm has also set up a separate LLP to ‘house’ the legal advice for regulatory purposes; Price Bailey Legal Services. A board to ‘run’ the new LLP is still to be formalised.

The demarcation of duties is not an area that causes Gillman too much concern, as the firm has long-operated with a financial services arm, under which certain advice can only be given by those qualified.

“Our people are used to putting work to the right place – by department, not office,” he adds. “It might sound fanciful, but we’re culturally attuned to being one business.”

Gillman doesn’t see any conflict issues where it works with other lawyers or clients – issues that have seemed to discourage other accountants from setting up multi-disciplinary practices. The type of advice being provided is likely to be early and preventative – “the stuff that doesn’t reach solicitors”.

“It’s a nice path for us to go down,” Gillman added.

The ICAEW applied in December to become a regulator and licensing body for probate services and ABSs. The institute had indicated that the process would likely take a year.

Vernon Soare, ICAEW executive director of professional standards, said at the time: “As an experienced regulator, I am confident that ICAEW will ensure its members and firms provide excellent probate services to the public.

“As the first professional accountancy body to apply to license alternative business structures, we recognise the importance of widening consumer choice in the legal services market and of protecting the consumer through effective regulation.”

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