The Solicitors Regulation Authority has been warned it is turning the legal sector into a ‘wild west marketplace’ by lifting restrictions on how solicitors can practise.
The regulator yesterday outlined plans to allow solicitors to work outside the confines of a sole practitioner business or regulated firm.
As part of its consultation on looking to the future, the SRA also wants to lift the rule preventing a solicitor running a firm unless they have been entitled to practise for at least three years.
But the Law Society says the changes risk creating an uneven legal playing field with consumers unsure what protections they have.
Society president Joe Egan said: ‘We are gravely concerned the SRA is ploughing ahead with proposals that would see solicitors subject to entirely different regulations depending on where they practise. The regulator has failed to think through the implications for consumer protection nor has it proposed adequate safeguards.’
Under the plans, new tiers of solicitors would be created working in unauthorised firms or under their own guise as a freelancer.
Removal of the rules preventing solicitors establishing their own firms immediately could put vulnerable clients ‘in the hands of inexperienced, unsupervised lawyers’, added Egan.
The SRA says the current rule about setting up a firm is confusing, conflating technical competence, supervision arrangements and running a business.
Its consultation adds: ‘The effect of the rule is to create a barrier to market entry, by preventing solicitors establishing their own firms as soon as they qualify.’
The Law Society has also criticised plans contained in a second consultation to force firms to publish prices on their websites.
Egan said it was counter-intuitive to force regulated entities to publish data when there will be no compulsion on unregulated entities to do the same.
He added: ‘Publishing a raft of information without proper context may cause confusion and not actually help consumers understand legal services.’