The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s plans to simplify its hefty handbook could result in a two-tier profession, the Law Society has warned.
Last month the regulator opened an unprecedented 16-week consultation on new separate codes for solicitors and firms. Its proposals include giving greater freedom for solicitors to deliver legal services outside regulated firms.
However, the 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.
The Society has also expressed concerns over the requirements to have professional indemnity insurance, client access to the compensation fund and Legal Ombudsman, and changes to supervision requirements that could mean newly qualified solicitors with no experience being able to set up their own unregulated firms.
Dixon said: ‘Also, because the regulatory burden on solicitors working in regulated entities will be higher than on those who are not, this could result in unfair competition between providers of legal services which is not in the public interest.’
An SRA spokesperson said: ‘We want as many organisations and individuals as possible to respond to our consultation on the radical reforms we have proposed. We welcome the Law Society making a contribution to this important issue and hope others will too. Engaging effectively with all our stakeholders is something we take very seriously.
‘All responses will be analysed thoroughly and fed back to our board. That will be the appropriate time to comment on specific points raised.’
The revamped handbook will not be published before spring 2017.
The SRA’s consultation closes on 21 September. The Society will submit an evidence-based response, and has urged the profession to consider the implications of the changes and get in touch.