Society clashes with SRA over potential split

Topics: Law Society activity,Regulation and compliance

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  • Paul Philip

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has claimed the profession will not command public confidence until the regulator formally splits from the representative Law Society at Chancery Lane.

Speaking yesterday during the SRA board meeting, chief executive Paul Philip (pictured) said the organisation is preparing to make a case to government for complete separation that will also focus on potential savings for solicitors.


However, the Law Society has today hit back, calling into question the regulator's figures and suggesting the SRA's flawed priorities are perhaps 'an indication of the lack of value our regulator places on our profession'. 

The regulator and representative body are still funded through the same process and they remain linked in other ways through the regime installed by the 2007 Legal Services Act.

But the Treasury and Ministry of Justice have both pledged to review the current arrangements.

The Law Society opposes complete separation on several grounds, notably defending the international reputation of the domestic legal profession and retaining a say in standard-setting and entry.

Philip addressed relations with the Law Society in an address that was not included on the board’s agenda. He said the SRA will ‘beg to differ’ with the Society on the issue of independence.

‘Public confidence is very much key to regulation and we can’t demand full confidence while we are part of the representative body,’ he said.

‘The standing of the profession [internationally] is fundamental to us, which is part of being an independent regulator.

‘Education and training are also fundamental components of the regulatory model and to suggest those rest with the representative body is simply wrong.’

Philip hinted the SRA will argue its case to government partly based on the potential costs to solicitors and the need to drive them down. He stressed that a slice of the practising certificate fee goes to the Law Society each year, a figure that he said equates to around £250 per solicitor. The Society disputes that figure.

‘That is money that should be returned to the profession, which is something we would very much consider,’ he said.

SRA chair Enid Rowlands said the British Medical Association, which represents around 50% of doctors, is an example of an organisation that has thrived independently of regulation.

‘We believe in a strong regulatory body with a good clear voice. But it is a very different set of objectives to be a representative body and a regulator,’ she added. ‘It requires all of us to look forward and not be tempted to look back.’

The government consultation on regulation of the legal profession is expected to be published this spring.

A Law Society spokesperson said: 'Individuals and businesses seek and depend on excellent legal advice at critical times. It is essential that consumers and businesses are protected by basic rules to ensure their money is safe, regardless of who is providing the advice. This is the role of effective regulation.

'The solicitor profession recognises the need for a professional body to represent, promote and support the profession. The Law Society undertakes that vital role and additionally has a public interest role to support access to justice, individual rights and freedoms, and uphold the rule of law. This role is considered to be so important that it is enshrined in legislation.

'The cost of the Law Society is significantly lower than that of the profession's lay regulator, the SRA. We do not agree with the saving figure reported by the SRA. If we really want to cut the costs of regulation to the solicitor profession and reduce the practice certificate fee, it should be the profession that owns and set its own standards. This will enable a legal service regulator to properly and efficiently regulate the legal services market.

'This will reduce the regulatory burden on solicitors while ensuring that the public is protected when employing unregulated providers, which make up an increasingly large percentage of the legal service market. Solicitors are having to compete with unregulated providers and as a result the public interest is not protected and the legal service market is unfair.

'We are disappointed that the SRA is seemingly seeking to undermine the solicitors’ professional body and devalue its work. Perhaps this is an indication of the lack of value our regulator places on our profession and why it is so keen to remove any involvement of the solicitor profession in the setting of standards, entry levels, and the awarding of the professional title of solicitor from the profession.'

Readers' comments (23)

  • Will the LS defend itself more vigorously than it does Solicitors?!

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  • Hilarious! TLS v SRA! One wants to build its own empire and offers the following bait 'complete separation that will also focus on potential savings for solicitors' the other wants to maintain its empire and knows that a no longer dependant regulator is the first step in no longer having to be a member of TLS! Best scrap since I watched a boa constrictor v Jaguar on an Attenborough documentary.

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  • We had this debate in the 1970 and 1980s which resulted in the SRA. Why don't you just leave things alone for goodness sake? All there reviews and changes cost money. The next thing you'll want is a brand new suite of offices.

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  • Unedifying stuff.

    "Public confidence is very much key to regulation". Actually, what is "key" to regulation is not having the confidence of the public, but having the confidence of the profession you are seeking to regulate - something which the SRA has failed to achieve.

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  • Have to say I agree with this. The Law Society has lost its identity, direction and relevance to the Profession who it sees as a cash cow and who Government clearly ignore. Having shares in 3rd party software providers it recommends and offering its own consultancy etc at vastly inflated prices whilst taking a cut is a further example of profiteering at the expense of the Profession it is meant to represent.

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  • "... the SRA will argue its case to government partly based on the potential costs to solicitors ... a slice of the practising certificate fee goes to the Law Society each year, around £250 per solicitor..."

    I have to admit I feel like a whiny client that is stamping their feet and about to wee themselves when I think of what The Claims Handling Society does for proper solicitors - which is nothing.

    They would be better off doing what they do best which is promoting the interests of London Solicitors (and Banks and Insurers).

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  • What a mess.

    The inter-relations between these two bodies reflect all the inconsistencies, contradictions and tensions which exist at the heart of the very legislation the Law Society opposed so miserably.

    Just taking the actions of the Law Society during the criminal tender discussions as an example little loyalty from members was engendered by its agreement to the legal aid contracts with the MOJ behind the backs of the very same members.

    The constant reference to "consumers" shows that a root and branch governance review is badly needed.

    The tragedy is that solicitors are being attacked on so many fronts any positive outcome may come far too late.

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  • It was the late Mr Tacitus who remarked
    "Ubi solitudenum facient pacem appellant".
    -they create a wilderness and they call it peace.

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  • @Anonymous 21 January 2016 03:51 pm:

    '...The Law Society has lost its identity..'

    Has it? I thought its identity was to be a picture of a gun to hold up to the Govt.

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  • Solution: one competition regulator (LSA), like the MPC, one front-line regulator (SRA re-named), like the FCA. Other bodies being representative bodies, representing their members and defending the administration of justice.

    The current proliferation of regulators defies sense. Entity regulation is contrary to the DNA of the BSB, FiLex has a tiny number of members and I don’t want to think about the Institute of Notaries!

    The primacy of competition over the commitment to the administration of justice contained in the LSA is objectionable, but it is the reality.

    If it going to be embraced, it must be embraced fully, with the representative bodies protecting the administration of justice.

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