Freeing up solicitors, focusing on standards
Crispin Passmore considers how the SRA can achieve its vision of an open, healthy legal market
Our wide-ranging consultation on modernising regulation and allowing solicitors to deliver legal services from outside a regulated law firm has closed,
so it’s timely to reflect on the changing legal market and how reform can help solicitors and law firms thrive in a competitive market.
Solicitors already practise
in a variety of ways, with around
a quarter practising in house.
Many thousands operate outside regulated firms in the alternative legal market. Within these significant parts of the profession, many are advising the public
and commercial clients.
They may be working in global outsourcing, or data and tech companies, assisting large commercial clients. Or sitting alongside accountants in professional services firms outside our regulation. Then there are hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of English solicitors working in foreign firms that we do not regulate. And, of course, many law centres and advice agencies are not regulated by the SRA, but employ solicitors to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
We are already seeing new business models delivering innovative new services: tech companies offering online and unbundled legal services at low cost; lawyers on demand, matched to clients through technology platforms.
Beyond this, we see non-practising solicitors (what is
the public to make of that term?) offering legal services outside
of our regulation. It’s no wonder that the Law Society’s ‘Future
of Legal Services’ report predicted that more solicitors would give up regulation to practise freely.
What unites these alternative services is that they are solicitor services – delivered by professionals already committed to high ethical standards set by their regulator. And yet the current rule book creates artificial boundaries and barriers. It must be an anachronism that the only people who cannot write your will in this alternative market are solicitors and barristers. The public might even think that solicitors are particularly well qualified to do that.
Over recent decades, regulation has become too complex while access to law becomes ever more difficult.
It’s time to right that wrong.
This is an opportunity to level the playing field, increasing not only public and small-business access to solicitors, but clarity about services and consumer protections.
Our proposals will not create an alternative legal market, let alone two tiers of solicitor. We
are proposing to free up firms
and solicitors to bring their ethics, excellence, and expertise to enhance markets that already exist. Every solicitor, wherever they work, will be bound by the same code of conduct, setting clear and unambiguous standards. Surely that is better than solicitors giving up their vocation to avoid regulation that restricts and stifles their practice?