The SRA today signalled what it called the ‘Uberisation’ of the legal market with the advent of the freelance solicitor.
The regulator proposes to make it easier for solicitors to provide reserved legal services on a freelance basis to the public. They would not be required to register as a sole practitioner or be employed by an authorised firm.
Freelance status comes with conditions: they would not be able to hold client money or employ people, but would need appropriate indemnity insurance.
Currently solicitors can work outside of a regulated entity in areas such as law centres and pro bono, but they must apply for a complex series of exemptions.
The reform makes up part of the SRA’s second phase of changes to its rules which will reduce the handbook by more than two-thirds to 130 pages. The first phase involves a simpler code of conduct and changes to accounts rules. All reforms are expected to be implemented together, and no earlier than autumn 2018.
The SRA feels solicitors should be able to operate on the same model as barristers, attached to chambers and sharing back-office functions, but essentially working on a freelance basis.
It has also been guided by the growth of the ‘virtual’ firm, where solicitors effectively operate on their own but under the banner of a regulated firm.
Among other proposals, all included in a consultation published today, are a revised enforcement policy and about how and when the SRA might take disciplinary action. This will take greater account when considering action of intent, harm caused, patterns of behaviour, vulnerability of the client, seniority of the solicitor, and any remedial action taken.
The consultation also proposes a transitional arrangement for the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which is set to be introduced in autumn 2020.
All those starting out from 2020 must take the SQE, but anyone who has started the process of qualification through current routes will be given until 2031 to qualify this way.
Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, said the revised handbook will focus on high professional standards and appropriate public protections.
‘Pages of complex bureaucracy do not benefit anybody,’ he added. ‘Our approach rightly puts the onus on professional judgement and ethics.’