I was listening the other night on iPlayer to ‘Law in Action’ and was very interested to hear a discussion (which starts about 13 minutes into the program) between Paul Philip, CE of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Simon Davis from the Law Society, about a proposed relaxation of the solicitors rules
(Sounds boring I know, but read on …).
The proposal (proposed by the SRA and opposed by the Law Society) is to allow solicitors to give legal advice to the public via ‘non regulated firms’ ie firms which are not solicitors practices.
Such as, for instance, Landlord Law.
The legal profession, on the whole, tends to be opposed to change and newfanged ways of working. The main reason for the Law Society (so they claim) objecting to this rule change though, is because they consider it to be against the public interest.
For example (they say), clients getting advice via a non regulated firm will not be able to claim under the same extensive insurance which solicitors are obliged take out as a condition of being in practice, or take their complaints to the Legal Ombudsman in the same way that they can when using a ‘proper’ solicitors firm.
Of course, this misses the point that most people, unless they are very rich, or poor enough to qualify for legal aid (in the few areas where legal aid is still available) can’t use solicitors anyway because they can’t afford them.
So for them the options tend to be either using a cheaper non regulated firm (such as mine – where they exist) or getting advice from the bloke down the pub. Who has no insurance cover at all.
My position on this
I am very much with the SRA on this. I think changing the rules would be an excellent idea. For a start, it would allow me to apply to go back on the solicitors ‘roll’ AND carry on giving telephone advice to clients without risk of prosecution. I kid you not.
When I closed down my solicitor’s practice in 2013 I was flabbergasted to learn that if I carried on giving any kind of legal advice or service it was illegal and I could technically be prosecuted.
There are some areas of work, described as ‘reserved activities, which are reserved for solicitors and other qualified legal professionals. These are:
- Conducting litigation on behalf of someone else and representing them in Court (although you can always represent yourself as a litigant in person)
- Drafting conveyances and other ‘documents of title’
- Applying for a grant of probate for a client
- Acting as a notary, or
- Taking oaths and affidavits
However, even if you don’t do any reserved activities – under the solicitor’s rules, you can’t do ANY sort of legal work if you are a solicitor ‘on the roll’ other than through a regulated firm of solicitors.
So in order to be able to do the odd telephone advice for clients, I had to come off the roll and am not allowed to call myself a solicitor anymore.
It also means that if a firm wants to provide any form of legal service to the public which is not provided through a regulated firm of solicitors (which you are perfectly entitled to do so long as it does not involve reserved activitywork) the only people who CAN’T work there are solicitors.
Which is madness!
The future of the legal profession
The internet and technology are changing everything. The Law has been slow to change but change it will have to do over the next 20 years or so. People are just not prepared to put up with the old inefficiencies and expensive and time-consuming ways of doing things.
Not if there are quicker and cheaper alternatives.
If you read ‘The Future of the Professions’ by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind you will see that it is highly likely that in the future, legal services will be provided by all sorts of organisations many of which will come from outside the profession.
It is insane to have a rule which actually forbids solicitors from working for these firms. These are the very firms where solicitors should work!
My view is that the SRA right and that the rules should and indeed must be changed if the solicitors profession is not to become irrelevant.
Young lawyers prospects
For example, why should a young person go through all the time-consuming business and expense of qualifying as a solicitor – only to be told, if they decide to work for an innovative company such as mine, that they will have to come off the roll or risk prosecution?
Indeed the prospects for young people are greatly reduced I understand in traditional practices, and fewer trainees are being employed.
A large part of future legal services will be outside traditional firms. If the profession of ‘solicitor’ is to survive it is essential that solicitors are able to work in these organisations and retain their professional title and status. For example, surely we could regulate the solicitor rather than the firm?
Note by the way, that it is all right for a solicitor to work as an ‘in-house’ lawyer providing advice to their employer – it is providing services to the public via a non regulated firm which is forbidden.
My service, Landlord Law is a different type of legal service. It is a ‘one to many’ service where people who don’t want the expense and bother of instructing traditional solicitors can obtain legal guidance and documentation online at modest cost.
It has its feet in the future and not in the past and is constantly evolving (indeed we are working on a major upgrade right now). It is one example of the sort of thing that Susskind was talking about in his book.
However, I have bad news for the Law Society. Most people seem to care not one iota that I am not longer a regulated solicitor. They are just pleased to find a service which is reliable and which they can afford.
I would also like to point out that although unregulated I have professional indemnity insurance, have joined a redress scheme for clients to complain to (not that they have) and take a great deal of trouble over customer service. Something some regulated solicitors firms (despite what they say) are very bad at.
There is no ‘magic’ about being a regulated firm which ensures that you provide a good service or value for money.
I tend to agree that the reserved activity work should be reserved for regulated firms, but I hope that the solicitors’ practice rule is in due course amended for non-reserved activity work. After which I may decide to go back on the roll again and apply for a practising certificate.
Although this is by no means certain – as I have actually (and to my surprise) got on very well without one.
Which is something which should worry the both SRA and the Law Society.
But what do YOU think about it?
What do you look for in a legal service and do you think that solicitors firms are the only organisations able to provide it? Put your comments below (or if you are reading this via email, click the link and add them online).