The Solicitors Regulation Authority has proposed changes that would allow newly qualified solicitors to start their own firms.
Under current rules, solicitors must practise within a regulated firm. If they are working in an Alternative Business Structure, they must describe themselves as ‘non-practising.’
This would change under the SRA’s plans. “Research tells us that many people and small businesses still cannot access the legal advice that they need, at an affordable price,” it says in a consultation paper. “We have a duty to consider how the way we regulate can help to address this, and to ensure that this gap is narrowed.”
“And yet our existing rulebook restricts where and how solicitors can work. Solicitors, who are arguably best placed to deliver quality non-reserved legal services, cannot do so easily. This is because solicitors must practise through a firm authorised by one of the legal regulators whenever providing services to the public.”
“The key change in our proposals is to remove the current restrictions on most solicitors, so that they can deliver non-reserved legal services to the public through an alternative legal services provider and use the title solicitor.”
That means newly-qualified solicitors could set up their own unregulated organisation and still be allowed to described themselves as a solicitor.
Reserved legal activities, such as conducting litigation or probate work, administering oaths and exercising rights of audience in court – would still be restricted, however.
The Law Society has opposed the move. Chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “The SRA proposals will enable solicitors to work for unregulated entities providing unreserved legal activities to the public. This 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.
“Advice from solicitors in unregulated entities may not be legally privileged, which means that the ability of the client to be candid with their solicitor without the risk that this information will be shared, may be lost. If part of the solicitor profession is unable to give legally privileged advice, this is 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.”