After 90 days of deliberation, the Legal Services Board has approved the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s plans for solicitors to offer legal services through unregulated businesses and to allow self-employed solicitors to work on a freelance basis.
The plans have been opposed by many, but I have silently supported the proposals from the beginning and I am glad they have now been approved. Not only will opportunities be created for solicitors to work in a truly flexible way, it is also likely that the majority of unreserved legal services will now be provided with the necessary regulatory protection.
The SRA’s foresight in creating this new breed of solicitors cannot be criticised. The regulator saw the level of competition that solicitors’ firms were facing and knew that without changing the regulatory framework, the solicitor brand could not survive.
We solicitors should be supporting the plans and helping the SRA implement the new regulations.
The plans have another positive outcome that seems to have been missed by the regulator. That is the potential increase in the level of diversity among solicitors. Women and minority ethnic solicitors who face obstacles to progression and promotion in predominantly white-male-run firms will be able to carve out their own space and be leaders in their field outside the constraints that exist in a firm structure.
The new working culture will not affect standards of legal service, compared to those provided by solicitors who work at a firm, and will additionally bring new approaches to delivery.
With the courts reforms designed, to an extent, to create a court system without lawyers, this is the right time for the SRA to highlight the importance of being a legally qualified professional. Although the SRA may not see it this way, its push for ‘independent’ solicitors counters many of the arguments made by the Ministry of Justice to justify the £1bn courts modernisation. The ‘independent’ solicitor will be able to bring a new approach to costs for individuals and small businesses, and by working outside the traditional norms will also be more accessible.
The solicitors’ profession was built on the backs of individuals. The new regulatory reforms are no more than echoes of the past and will ensure that there is a solicitors’ profession for future generations.
Sophie Khan & Co, Leicester