You may have misgivings about the SRA, but imagine them in charge of a zoo.
They would probably identify a lack of path options for visitors and open the lion enclosure. It’s all about the choice, right? We can always trust that visitors have the foresight to have packed their lion-taming kit.
From next spring, it has been confirmed, solicitors will be able to offer legal services from businesses which are not solicitors firms. Individuals will be subject to a code of conduct, but their bosses won’t be. Clients instructing a solicitor, and expecting the protections that come with it, will be sorely disappointed if something goes wrong. Just imagine the Daily Mail headline if a client is made penniless by a rogue solicitor and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Decision-makers offer such concessions based on two factors: consumer choice and the status quo.
On the first point, the assumption is that hordes of potential clients are just waiting to instruct a solicitor, if only they had the choice of doing so through an unregulated provider. Presumably this would be because they are cheaper than solicitors in firms regulated by the SRA.
It’s an argument, I suppose, but a presumptuous one. There is plenty of research showing unmet legal need, but it’s the people who don’t usually instruct a lawyer that have the most to lose. They will be the ones without the wherewithal to ask the right questions; to understand their rights; and to read the small print.
Another point made by the SRA is that people already seek out unregulated providers, so why not parachute qualified solicitors into this market and at least better protect those who have gone this route?
This misses the point. Unregulated providers are attractive because they are cheap; solicitors are attractive because they have the in-built consumer protections of a respected profession. To give consumers the impression they will have more protection because their adviser has a certificate is disingenuous: the entity around them is still operating outside of regulations and offers them no overall increase in protection.
There’s nothing wrong with consumer choice, but this isn’t giving legal services consumers an Aldi instead of a Waitrose. Both of those stores are bound by the same basic consumer protections, and shoppers pay their money and take their choice when it comes to quality. This is more akin to a reputable butcher selling you meat out the back of a van in the pub car park: he might have the rosette and white coat, but when you get ill there’s nothing the van driver is going to do about it.
Instructing a solicitor in an unregulated business gives you little more protection than simply instructing the unregulated business: only now it’ll come with extra disappointment when you realise you were sold a dud.