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British Law Firms May Go Public, Too

Posted Jun 12, 2007 9:05 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Seeking to follow in the footsteps of at least one Australian competitor, some British law firms reportedly are interested in potentially going public--and legislation being considered by Parliament would allow them to do just that.

The Legal Services Bill expected to pass later this year likely will give United Kingdom firms the right to sell shares to non-lawyers by 2010, as Australian law firms are already permitted to do, reports Bloomberg. A 140-attorney Melbourne-based personal injury firm, Slater & Gordon, is believed to have been the first in the world to go public and raised tens of millions to fund new offices by doing so last month.

Although legal ethics rules currently prohibit American law firms from giving ownership to non-attorneys, they, too, might press to be allowed to public, depending on how the situation develops. Opinion on the subject varies, however, Bloomberg reports:

"Among the top 10 issues that I worry about, that's not in the top 100," says H. Rodgin Cohen, chairman of New York City-based Sullivan & Cromwell. But a California competitor is more concerned. "If the English firms can sell stakes in their law firms publicly, that will then give them an advantage,'' says Ralph Baxter, chief executive officer San Francisco-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. ``If the rules were to change, we would then examine what's in our best interest to do.''

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