The Law Society has said it will oppose regulatory changes that could lead to unregulated solicitors providing unreserved services to the public.
The Society was responding to a Legal Services Board discussion paper, Are regulatory restrictions in practising rules for in-house lawyers justified?.
Publishing its discussion paper in February, LSB chief executive Richard Moriarty said the board was concerned unnecessary restrictions on in-house lawyers’ ability to innovate and expand their reach 'may have the potential to impose costs and red tape, frustrate choice and adversely affect access to justice’.
Any restrictions on their practice had to be 'clearly justified’.
If organisations with in-house lawyers wanted to provide services to the public, the Society said this should be done through an alternative business structure, whose introduction had established ‘appropriate’ regulation and client protection.
The Society was ‘puzzled’ by what it said appeared to be the suggestion that in-house lawyers should not be regulated if they undertake unreserved work.
Reducing restrictions may promote competition and increase access to justice, but the Society said it could negatively impact on consumers if they were insufficiently protected.
It was also concerned that ‘endeavours to allow more innovation in the market by reducing regulation may, in the long term, contribute to an overall loss of standards and ethics’ in the legal services market.
The Society concludes: '[The ABS regime was] intended to provide safeguards to ensure that consumers had proper protection and that the firm respected the ethical obligations of lawyers. We do not understand why firms which wish to enable their lawyers to offer legal services to clients should not use the ABS regime.’