Nobody was more disappointed than I by the SRA announcement to press ahead with reforms of the SRA Handbook, and in particular the decision to allow solicitors to deliver services directly to the public from unregulated entities.
As things stand, when a client walks into a solicitor’s office, they don’t just get a first-class service from a qualified professional. They also have the security of strong regulatory protections. Professional indemnity insurance, access to the compensation fund, legal professional privilege and adequate supervision – these safeguards protect the client whether they know it or not. Robust regulatory protections are good for clients and for the profession.
If the SRA does press ahead then we will have a two-tier profession. Some clients will have strong regulatory protection; others won’t. There will be no necessity or imperative for unregulated businesses to provide such protections. To expect all clients to be able to understand this fine distinction is unrealistic. The SRA’s approach will transfer risk to clients; a risk they may not even be aware they are undertaking.
This is also unfair to the solicitors working in those unregulated businesses without the promise of adequate supervision.
It is hard enough to explain to clients the difference between regulated and unregulated work. To have to explain those differences, as well as the difference between solicitors working for a regulated practice, and solicitors working for an unregulated business, is a step too far. It will, inevitably, cause confusion for clients who may only understand and appreciate the difference when things go wrong.
This all raises the question of who, or what, is driving this change. With significant opposition from the profession, and increased risk for vulnerable clients, I am struggling to see the evidence that clients or practitioners will benefit.
Solicitors should be assured that the Regulatory Affairs Board will do all it can to convey the concerns of the profession to the SRA and others.
Sundeep Bhatia, Chair, Law Society Regulatory Affairs Board