The Law Society has formally expressed its opposition to Solicitors Regulation Authority plans to allow solicitors to work for firms outside its regulation.
In an 84-page consultation response, the solicitors’ representative body accuses the regulator of acting without evidence and creating the potential to confuse consumers.
The SRA wants to create two separate codes of conduct, one for firms and one for solicitors, and to allow solicitors to deliver legal services from firms outside its scope of regulation. This is not permitted under current rules.
The changes are part of proposals to slash the handbook in size, including cutting a 40-page section on accounts rules down to six pages.
The SRA says the reformed code will reduce the burden on the profession with regard to regulatory compliance and maintain consumer protection. The aim is to increase flexibility for the profession and solicitors while still keeping them subject to individual regulation. The consultation closes on 21 September.
But the Law Society has described the proposals as ‘poorly evidenced and misconceived’ and unable to address unmet legal needs or improve access to justice.
President Robert Bourns (pictured) said: ‘The SRA has failed to make a convincing case when it comes to any benefits from its proposals. There simply isn’t convincing evidence that allowing solicitors to deal with the public from unregulated companies will either drive up choice or drive down cost.’
The Law Society response questions from the outset what proof there is of ‘significant and clear and present’ harm generated by the current system to require such radical reform.
Allowing solicitors to work for unregulated firms, the Society argues, would have implications for client protection, legal professional privilege and professional supervision.
In any case, changing the system now would be premature given the ongoing Competition and Markets Authority study and the government’s call for evidence on what to do about legal services regulation.
The Society also notes there is no consideration of how the proposals would affect international firms.
‘The piecemeal approach to the regulatory review as a whole and the fact that this current consultation is just one of a number of linked consultations, means that it is particularly problematic to have any real understanding of how the new regime will work,’ the Society says.