A second unregulated entity has emerged as being allowed to employ solicitors to sell legal services. Online legal business Rocket Lawyer confirmed to the Gazette that it received a waiver last year for its solicitors to provide services to customers in England and Wales.
The company has long been regarded as at the forefront of the changing legal market in the UK, after starting in the USA. It creates digital legal documents and assigns work to a panel of dozens of lawyers when the work is too complex to handle online.
Rocket Lawyer has taken advantage of the Solicitors Regulation Authority granting a so-called ‘safe space’ for legal businesses to innovate. Permitting an unregulated firm to employ regulated solicitors is controversial as a scheme, which was subject to consultation last year, and is not likely to be written into SRA rules until next year.
Mark Edwards, vice president and general manager of Rocket Lawyer UK, said customers who wanted more than automated contracts could previously either consult a Rocket Lawyer paralegal or an on-call lawyer from the network. ‘Now with the waiver we have a middle option: Rocket Lawyer solicitors can provide legal advice for the more standard legal issues,’ he said. ‘This will allow us to provide a better customer experience and to bring the price down, to some extent, so that we can further fulfil on our mission to make the law affordable and simple.’
Edwards said the company intends to hire half a dozen solicitors and consultants this year to help small business customers with commercial issues such as shareholder agreements, terms & conditions, service agreements and data protection compliance.
The SRA waiver policy is not new but the commitment to increasing its scope was made clear earlier this year. The regulator has said it will publish waivers to make sure the process is fair and transparent and will compile an annual innovation report to make sure decisions are being made consistently. But the SRA appears not to be willing to publish details of each waiver, without the permission of the applicant.
It insists the ‘safe space’ was intended to be for all potential applicants, be they existing firms or new entrants to the market. It had been assumed in some quarters the policy was supposed to be for existing firms to help them compete with those coming into the sector.
The policy of allowing solicitors to provide legal services through unregulated providers has been opposed by the Law Society, which has questioned what redress and protection is available to consumers and what information they are being told about the status of the provider.