The Solicitors Regulation Authority last week defended its ‘radical’ handbook reforms, saying they will widen access to justice. However, acknowledging concerns raised by the Law Society, the regulator said safeguards will be needed if solicitors are given greater freedom to work outside regulated firms.
Last month the regulator opened an unprecedented 16-week consultation on new separate codes for solicitors and firms.
The Law Society said the proposals had serious implications for client protection, legal professional privilege, professional supervision, competition and the standing of the solicitor profession.
Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: ‘The proposals could result in two tiers of solicitors – those working in a regulated entity and those who are not [regulated] – with different rules and protections applying to clients, depending on where the solicitor is working.’
Dixon warned that advice from solicitors in unregulated entities may not be legally privileged.
‘If part of the solicitor profession is unable to give legally privileged advice, this is a slippery slope which could erode legal privilege, a cornerstone of the justice system, and undermine the standing of the solicitor profession both at home and abroad,’ she added.
However, SRA chief executive Paul Philip (pictured) told a media briefing that the regulator was trying to make the regulatory model more proportionate and open up competition.
He said: ‘The idea that we would be able to allow solicitors to practise law and provide advice and other services outside of an authorised entity [will] make a contribution to giving greater access to legal advice and therefore enforcement of civil rights by individuals.’