‘Unnecessary’ restrictions on the country’s 25,000-plus in-house lawyers should be swept away to promote innovation and improve access to justice.
That is the view of the profession’s oversight regulator, which has called on frontline regulators including the Solicitors Regulation Authority either to justify restrictive practising rules for in-house lawyers or get rid of them.
In a discussion paper, the Legal Services Board outlined its concern that the current limits on what in-house lawyers can do are drawn more tightly than the minimum required by the Legal Services Act 2007. ‘The board is concerned that any unnecessary restrictions on in-house lawyers may have the potential to impose costs and red tape, frustrate innovation and adversely affect access to justice,’ the paper’s executive summary declares.
In-house lawyers are defined as authorised persons who work for employers that do not provide reserved legal services to the public.
Of the frontline regulators, three do not make specific provisions for those working in-house: the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, ILEx Professional Standards and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Three do have specific practising rules for in-house lawyers; the SRA, the Bar Standards Board and the Intellectual Property Regulation Board.
‘While there are some similarities there are also some differences,’ the discussion paper observes. ‘Our initial analysis shows that these rules appear to go broader than the minimum restrictions required to give effect to the act.’
In respect of the SRA, the paper specifically identifies services that the SRA’s rules appear to prohibit. These concern the provision of unreserved legal services to consumers unconnected to the lawyer’s employer.
The SRA has already said it will review its current approach to in-house practitioners, which the board said was a ‘welcome’ development.
The LSB’s consultation on the paper closes on 24 April.