Next month, the long-awaited Legal Services Act will come into force in the UK. After years of waiting, worrying and hypothesizing by many in the legal fraternity, law firms in England and Wales will be allowed to receive outside investment from non-lawyers and even float on a stock exchange.
That could see the likes of Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer being able to go public. That’s the theory, at least, since the loudest expressions of interest so far have come from middle-tier English law firms like Irwin Mitchell, which is reported to have appointed the Portuguese investment bank Espirito Santo as its adviser.
These impending investment opportunities have excited interest among some of the banks and financial firms in the City of London, of which Investec is one high-profile example. The FTSE 100 banking and asset management company has already set up a professional services finance group, in preparation for what has been labelled the legal equivalent of the Thatcherite Big Bang that deregulated the UK banking sector in the 1980s. Of course, the Legal Services Act also goes by the name ‘Tesco law’ because of its perceived opening up of the provision of legal services to all and sundry, including the leading supermarket in the UK.
Nomenclature aside, should any of these law firms choose to go the whole hog and list on a stock exchange, they will be entering the whole new world of investor relations, taking on all the expectations and obligations that are thrust on a public company, such as annual reporting, investor meetings and analyst calls.
To find out what awaits any of these UK law firms should they decide to take the plunge, IR magazine went to the other side of the world in search of the first ever listed law firm.
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