The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) is set to be granted the power to license alternative business structures by the end of this week.
David Edmonds, chair of oversight regulator the Legal Services Board, used a speech this week to confirm the ICAEW has finally completed all hurdles to be designated as an approved regulator.
Accountants’ entry into the legal services market is one of the biggest developments in the sector following the Legal Services Act 2007, which allowed non-lawyers to run and own law firms.
Members of the ICAEW – including at least one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – are now expected to make their applications to offer legal services to existing clients.
Edmonds, speaking on Monday evening to the Regulatory Policy Institute’s Hertford Seminars in Regulation, said the ICAEW’s rationale for making its application is to allow its members to be authorised to do probate activities alongside related services they currently provide.
He added that in time the ICAEW will also regulate litigation and other legal services.
Approval ‘will enable firms to offer a more integrated service to clients who, in non-contentious cases, will be able to use a single adviser which in turn should have an impact on the overall cost of the service for consumers and increase competition,’ Edmonds said.
‘This is a first step for the ICAEW and it is a very considerable step for liberalisation in the legal services market.’
Edmonds said the LSB has tested the application, which was submitted last December, against the criteria set down in the Legal Services Act. Once the LSB has formally approved the application, likely to happen at the end of this week, it will be left to the lord chancellor to rubber-stamp.
Vernon Soare, ICAEW's executive director for professional standards said: ‘In submitting our application to the LSB for probate and ABS licensing, ICAEW has been very aware of the need to regulate in such a way that the consumer is provided with high-quality advice at a competitive fee.
‘We are confident that ICAEW members and firms will rise to the challenge and we look forward to exploring the potential for adding other legal services to ICAEW's regulatory remit in the future.’
Last month the ICAEW wrote to the LSB asking for permission to amend part of its application, warning that any further delay could put off the final authorisation until next autumn. It appears the LSB agreed to that request to ensure the process is completed more quickly.
The ICAEW will join the SRA, Council for Licensed Conveyancers and the Intellectual Property Regulation Board as bodies authorised to approve ABS applications.
Two of the UK’s major accountancy firms have already confirmed they are considering whether to become providers of regulated legal services.
KPMG is considering an ABS application and its rival Ernst & Young has previously told the Gazette it is keeping its options open.