Parents of teenagers have two options when deciding how far to let their offspring off the leash.
They can either set out a list of prescriptive rules and order them to come home by a certain time, or they can trust their kid has been brought up well enough to ensure they won’t take liberties if they’re allowed a little freedom.
Effectively, the SRA this week said to solicitors they are allowed out in the evening, on the proviso the parents know who they’re out with and they don’t cause any trouble. As with a liberal parent, it’s a risk to remove boundaries, but you trust them to grow and develop outside of strict restrictions.
Solicitors, as of this week, have never had it so good in terms of the choice about where they work and who pays their wages.
No longer must they be harnessed to a regulated firm or, if they want to go it alone, face the arduous regulatory hurdles of becoming a sole practitioner.
If they want to work for an unregulated firm offering unreserved legal activities, they can do so (with certain caveats). The SRA simply asks they leave a note saying who they’re out with. Freelance solicitors can now offer both reserved and unreserved services directly to the public, with certain restrictions (they cannot employ anyone to conduct the legal work, can only hold client money for the payment of specific costs and must have at least three-years’ prior experience as a solicitor).
Whether this suits the public is still a contentious issue. For all that the SRA trumpets its four years of developing these changes and input from 35,000 people, there is still limited evidence that the public actually wants these reforms. They may well embrace more choice and (potentially) reduce prices, but many will be put off by the reduced protections and continued uncertainty about what scope they have for making complaints (assuming clients are even told up-front about what protections they have).
But for solicitors, these are heady times. I’m told by unregulated companies who secured waivers to employ solicitors that they previously faced the absurd situation of having solicitors on their books who could not refer to themselves as solicitors. That wasn’t helping anybody and at least we can now apply a little common sense.
In the new world, the extra reporting and transparency burdens for firms could weigh heavy. The uncertainty about protection and redress is still a worry for clients.
But for solicitors, the choice of where to work has never been greater. The SRA has let them run free, and now has to cross its fingers they’ll behave responsibly and come home safely.