Would you allow an unqualified and unlicensed doctor to operate on you, or a member of your family? Of course not. So why do some people who would never take that risk use an unqualified and unlicensed lawyer to draw up a legal document which deals with their affairs after death? 

The answer may be cost, or it may be that most people assume someone offering them ‘legal services’ is qualified to do so.

In terms of cost, the message to customers looking to save money by using an unregulated will-writer is: don’t! A solicitor will have spent a minimum of six years to qualify; a barrister a minimum of five. By contrast, any person, without so much as a GCSE or an hour of formal training, can set up a ‘legal services’ company and market themselves as a lawyer. Mistakes are much more likely if a will is drawn up by someone without a formal legal education.

It is wrong that the public can be misled into believing the person they are engaging to carry out legal work for them is qualified, simply because of the way the Legal Services Act [2007] is drafted.

Consumers of every product and service assume a certain level of protection. Yet, curiously, the legislation surrounding the provision of legal services has been so badly constructed that anyone can establish a legal services business and call themselves a lawyer.

The public frequently do not understand the differences between a lawyer and a solicitor. Indeed, most people believe someone introducing themselves as a lawyer is qualified and subject to a regulatory and licensing regime.

Solicitors are struck off every day; barristers are disbarred when malpractice or negligence is proven. The consequence for legal professionals who make mistakes is that they may lose their reputation, their career and their livelihood. The risk to an unregulated lawyer is non-existent.

An unregulated legal services firm can carry on trading indefinitely, regardless. The law is inadequate and needs reform to ensure the public are protected.

Scott Tuppen, senior adviser, National Assembly for Wales

 

 

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