The news that an investment banker is talking to some of the largest firms about an AIM listing brings what is surely an inevitability one step closer.
Once the white paper proposals on law firm ownership are passed, quite possibly later this year, the barriers to firms floating will have been removed. And the kudos of being the first may be irresistible – to some at least.
But what a shock to the cosy, private financial world lawyers have always enjoyed that would be – should it come to pass. Any firm thinking about a launch is first going to have to get its corporate structure sorted out. A series of firms have already gone a long way down this road, of course, by converting to limited-liability partnership (LLP) status.
But the next step – at the moment still theoretical – is where the pain will first be felt by publicity-shy lawyers. Any firm floating is going to have to issue a prospectus saying: “Come and have a look at us.” As one UK managing partner puts it: “You’d have outside people crawling all over you, checking what colour your toilet paper was. If you have any warts, they’ll find them.” Few firms are going to hurry to invite that sort of financial scrutiny.