The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (the “SRA”), the body responsible for regulating solicitors in England and Wales, has announced changes which would simplify the rules and regulations governing solicitors. The SRA says that the changes will be for the benefit of consumers and will allow greater trust to be placed in the solicitors’ profession.
These changes include a simplified Code of Conduct as well as distinguishing between a Code of Conduct for solicitors and a Code of Conduct for firms. The Solicitors Accounts Rules will also be simplified to enable better compliance and prevent the occurrence of technical breaches.
Further, the SRA says it is seeking to remove restrictive rules which add cost for solicitors without sufficient public benefit. It is proposed that rules which prevent solicitors from working in non SRA regulated firms will be removed. Solicitors will therefore be allowed to provide legal services on a freelance basis to the public in certain situations.
However, the Law Society, the representative body for solicitors in England and Wales which promotes professional standards and the rule of law, has expressed concerns in relation to the proposed changes. The Law Society is particularly concerned that the changes will leave clients with less protection.
The Law Society has highlighted a number of concerns arising from the changes. There are serious implications for legal professional privilege if solicitors can work for unregulated entities. Further, unregulated solicitors may not be required to have professional indemnity insurance. Changes to the supervision requirements could result in newly qualified solicitors, with no post qualification experience, setting up unregulated firms.
The Law Society is concerned that clients will not know what protections they will receive when they instruct a solicitor and that the standing of the solicitor’s profession could be placed at risk if the changes are implemented.
The Situation in Ireland
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (the “Authority”) has powers under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 (the “Act”) in relation to existing professional codes. The Authority can also introduce its own code of practice where it considers it necessary for setting and improving standards for the provision of legal services in the State. Prior to exercising this power, the Authority shall consult, in such manner as it thinks appropriate, with the professional body whose members will be subject of the proposed code of practice as well as interested parties whom the Authority considers appropriate.
The Authority has recently been involved in public consultation in relation to legal partnerships, multi-disciplinary practices and certain issues relating to barristers. The deadline for submissions in relation to these matters has passed. The Authority submitted reports to the Minister for Justice and Equality in relation to the latter two consultations on 29 September 2017.
Author: Ciara Hanratty