Regulators have been urged to have a last-ditch change of heart about relaxing the rules over where solicitors can practise.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has already approved changing its policy to allow solicitors to work for unauthorised legal services providers and is currently working on the rules around client protection.
The regulator has also opened the way, through a consultation on part two of its ‘Looking to the Future’ programme, for individual self-employed solicitors to provide reserved legal services on their own account.
The Law Society has previously expressed reservations about the creation of a two-tier legal profession and, in its response to the latest consultation, says there is still time to back out of relaxing the rules altogether.
‘The SRA is ploughing ahead with proposed changes to its handbook that would see different solicitors subject to different regulations depending on where they practise,’ Society president Joe Egan said. ‘People hire solicitors when they are facing some very stressful situations such as marriage breakdown or bereavement. It will heap additional pressure if they have to verify the regulatory arrangements for their solicitor before they instruct them.’
In the latest consultation document, the SRA says detailed rules over solicitors providing non-reserved legal services outside regulated firms will be included in its wider review of financial protection arrangements. These will be published next year and will cover decisions on professional indemnity insurance and the compensation fund access that clients will be entitled to. Changes are not likely to come into force any earlier than next winter.
Egan said the concern is that a new tier of solicitors would not have the same insurance, would not pay into the compensation fund and would not necessarily afford their clients legal professional privilege.
‘This consultation represents an opportunity for the SRA to make the handbook clearer and simpler, by engaging directly with practitioners who use it,’ added Egan. ‘Instead the proposals have focused on creating flexible business models. Flexibility for solicitors should not come at the expense of client protections.’