Right, take a seat and hear me out. I want to talk to you about solicitors practising in unauthorised businesses.
See, a couple of you have already snuck off. I understand. But this is a subject that has serious implications for every solicitor and goes to the heart of what it means to have that title.
Good enough? Then let’s begin.
For the uninitiated, the SRA effectively wants to allow solicitors to work in businesses over which they have no control. These might be legal businesses regulated elsewhere, or they could be companies with no compulsion whatsoever to play to anyone’s tune.
The SRA, in essence, says this is an opportunity for solicitors to access an unregulated market that has grown in their absence. As the mantra goes, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. Only solicitors aren’t actually able to do that.
And let’s be clear: solicitors will always be subject to rules. Only their work – and crucially mistakes that might come from it – may not be.
A solicitor may potentially offer legal services in, let’s say, a will-writing outfit, and the client will have no protection if things go wrong. No access to the compensation fund; no guarantee the provider will have indemnity insurance.
It’s only a matter of time before some poor victim appears on Watchdog to outline the unfairness of using a solicitor but getting none of the redress. And they’d be right.
The problem is the badge of solicitor will be available to lure consumers in thinking they are getting the full solicitor package, when they’re not.
The SRA will give more detail next month and is expecting to change its rules in late 2018.
There may be opportunity for regulated law firms here. They can market themselves as the trustworthy, reliable ’full’ service.
But ultimately most clients will always expect the protections that come with using a law firm when they instruct a solicitor. When they don’t get that, the public response won’t be nuanced enough to understand the difference between authorised and unauthorised - they will simply blame the legal profession. That harms every solicitor, no matter where they’re practising.