The Law Society has expressed its disapproval of aspects of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s proposed new Handbook. It says that allowing solicitors to practise from unregulated businesses risks eroding the standing of the profession.
At a recent briefing on the new Handbook, SRA Executive Director Crispin Passmore explained that the intention of the new rules was to prevent solicitors being squeezed out of the market because of restrictive regulation.
The Law Society’s response focuses on the risk of creating a two-tier profession and the subsequent risk for clients who may not understand the difference between the service and benefits they will get from a regulated or non-regulated firm.
The SRA has said that its intention with the new rules is to give firms freedom – and that it will not ‘second guess’ firms. Enforcement will not be for breaking rules but where there is a threat to consumers or the rule of law. However, where the SRA does not regulate the firm but only selected individuals within it, it clearly will have less power to address problems.
What’s your view? The consultation on the new Handbook is open until 21 September, and the Law Society is inviting solicitors to share their views and inform the Society’s formal response to the consultation.
Chief executive Catherine Dixon said allowing solicitors to work for unregulated entities providing unreserved legal activities to the public has “serious implications for client protection, legal professional privilege, professional supervision, competition and the standing of the solicitor profession. “The proposals could result in two tiers of solicitors – those working in a regulated entity and those who are not – with different rules and protections applying to clients depending on where the solicitor is working.” She warned that advice from solicitors in unregulated entities may not be legally privileged – which the SRA accepts – and said this could be the start of “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”.