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Letter: Slater & Gordon responds to ABS concerns

I am writing in regards to a recent article (see “ABS firm’s expansion offers new fodder for Ontario debate,” April 20) in which the purchase of a legal services firm in the United Kingdom by Slater & Gordon is utilized to spark alarm about a potential change in law firm ownership laws in Canada. There are a number of comments and concerns raised in the article that require a response.

Concerns about clients having their access to justice all of a sudden impacted by the acquisition of the professional services division of Quindell are misplaced.

When a change in ownership occurs in any professional services firm, the clients are rightly concerned that the conduct of their matter will not be adversely affected and, in particular, that the same legal team will be responsible for it. It is for that reason that in announcing the proposed transaction, we made clear that if the transaction is completed as expected, there will be no change to arrangements for existing clients.

While commentators may be fascinated by the ownership structure of law firms, clients are more concerned about whether their matter will continue to be conducted professionally and affordably. Our experience is that clients are reassured by the fact that Slater & Gordon has been providing legal services to clients professionally and affordably for 80 years.

Concerns raised in the article about “competing with an organization that has hundreds of millions in revenue and probably $50 million for advertising” is not only alarmist but inaccurate.

The figure quoted for advertising is completely off the mark. In fact, it may be a surprise for readers to learn that in some markets, competitors (including smaller local ones) outspend even very large organizations. Our publicly listed ownership structure has provided us with the capital to invest and fund new service lines; improvements in technology; an increase in office locations; better work environments for our staff; and a broad range of pro bono and philanthropic work.

We are very proud of the progress we have made in providing an environment for our staff that allows them to provide excellent service to clients as well as improving the range and scope of career and professional development opportunities available to them. While principals and lawyers from law firms that joined us in both Australia and the United Kingdom have seen the benefits of what has come from belonging to a larger group, it is of course the client who benefits most when there are options and competition in the market.

As lawyers, we have a duty to seek out ways to provide meaningful, innovative, and accessible solutions to a key problem that undermines the proper administration of justice: the lack of access to legal services.

For those concerned about access to justice, the focus should be on how to increase the availability of affordable legal services, something that includes being open to an examination of and discussion about the benefits that can come from having a range of ownership structures.

Putting the commercial interests of an individual lawyer or group of practitioners ahead of the potential broadening of ownership laws and the improvements it can bring for the client will ultimately undermine the confidence the public has in the integrity of the legal profession.
Andrew Grech,
Slater & Gordon,
Melbourne, Australia

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