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Legal executives to undertake conveyancing and probate services

Lord chancellor pledges order that will extend legal executives' rights and place them on same footing as solicitors

10 March 2014

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Legal executives are to have the same rights as solicitors following a decision by the lord chancellor that he would make an order allowing them to undertake reserved activities.

The move implements the approval by the Legal Services Board last year to allow accountants and legal executives to carry out conveyancing and probate activities.

It follows Chris Grayling's decision last week to allow ICAEW to be an approved regulator for probate services and become a licensing body for alternative business structures.

The forthcoming order will enable chartered legal executives to offer probate and conveyancing services, and to practise independently in those areas without supervision by solicitors.

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) is already an approved regulator under the Legal Services Act to regulate chartered legal executives to conduct litigation, exercise rights of audience and provide immigration services without supervision.

The lord chancellor has not listened to solicitors, says Paul Levy

“Chris Grayling’s decision will no doubt increase competition and reduce costs across the board. In a price-sensitive world, this appears, on face value, to be good news for clients/consumers. But is it a good move?

“Being a two-year qualified solicitor, I have been required to undertake a minimum of four years’ study together with an additional two years of training before being able to practise and take responsibility for client files.

“This training enabled me to deal with complex probate files that I have come across in practice. Without it, I may have missed possible tax planning opportunities on files that would have benefitted clients in the long term.

“Will writing is not regulated, meaning wills can be prepared that are wholly unsuitable, leaving consumers without recourse when things go wrong. As solicitors, there is little we can do aside from trying to ensure the probate process runs as smoothly as possible.

“Instructing solicitors during probate should provide clients with peace of mind knowing that if anything goes wrong, the matter will be addressed with proper recourse. Administering a deceased’s estate can be difficult and consumers should feel that they are being looked after by specialists in the field with vast experience.

“Getting a grant of probate may not be too complicated at times, but often consideration needs to be had for other areas surrounding the process.

“The technical expertise of solicitors enables executors to have access to potential tax planning opportunities that would otherwise be missed.

“For example, advice on deeds of variations to mitigate any inheritance tax that would otherwise have fallen on a beneficiary in the future and advice concerning which assets to appropriate to beneficiaries to mitigate the capital gains tax on an estate. These are not specific to high-value complex estates.

“Solicitors draw up wills that often include trusts. Because of their legal training, solicitors understand the clauses contained in a will trust and are able to ensure the trust is established and managed effectively.  

“Will non-lawyers identify potential contentious issues in an estate and act to protect the estate from such claims? Without such specialist knowledge, opportunities may fall under the radar and, worse still, trustees may find themselves at risk to a claim from a beneficiary for failure to fulfil their duties.

“No doubt there is a role for accountants and others in preparing accounts and tax returns, but above all estate administration is much more than figures and administrative processes. Specialist legal advice can protect estates, executors and beneficiaries.

“It is a shame that the lord chancellor has not listened to the profession’s representatives about this.”

Paul Levy is a solicitor at Wedlake Bell


ILEX Professional Standards (IPS), the legal executives' regulator, will also be able to regulate law firms run by chartered legal executives providing these specialist legal services.

IPS chair Alan Kershaw (pictured), said: "This is an important step for consumer choice and for recognising the standards IPS expects of those we regulate.

"Consumers expect their lawyers to be well trained in their area of specialism and to have a means of recourse if they are not satisfied. These orders help ensure this, and we will now work with our colleagues in Westminster to ensure their smooth passage through Parliament."

CILEx president Stephen Gowland added that chartered legal executive-run businesses will provide "a competitive and high quality service, and the public will have greater choice over who they get their legal services from."

"Current law firms will also be able to deploy CILEx members to their full potential, and not be bound up in red tape with unnecessary sign-off requirements," he said.

"As the legal services industry is changing, these orders will help make us more resilient, innovative and diverse."

IPS will begin accepting applications for authorisation as soon as parliamentary approval of the current orders.

IPS expects to begin accepting applications from CILEx Fellows for all of these rights in the summer of 2014.

IPS is working with the Ministry of Justice on orders to enable client protection measures to be put in place, including a compensation fund and intervention arrangements.

These are expected to be approved by parliament later this year, after which CILEx authorised practitioners will be able to set up fully in business on their own.

IPS will also apply to the LSB in due course to be able to license alternative business structures (ABS) managed or owned by non-lawyers

 

Categorised in:

Wills, Trusts & Probate