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Law Management Section

Uneven legal playing field recipe for consumer confusion

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Proposals for sweeping changes to the solicitor rulebook would create a wild west marketplace for legal services. 

Proposals for sweeping changes to the solicitor rulebook would create a wild west marketplace for legal services, the Law Society of England and Wales said today in response to two consultations put out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). 

‘Under the guise of improving access to legal advice, SRA is proposing changes to its handbook that can only put consumers at risk and undermine trust in legal services,’ said Law Society president Joe Egan. 

‘We are gravely concerned the SRA is ploughing ahead with proposals that would see solicitors subject to entirely different regulations depending on where they practise. The regulator has failed to think through the implications for consumer protection nor has it proposed adequate safeguards. 

‘A new tier of solicitors, working in unregulated outfits, wouldn’t have to have the same insurance, wouldn’t pay into the solicitors compensation fund and wouldn’t inevitably afford their clients legal professional privilege (LPP). 

‘A further new class of solicitor would freelance, with neither a firm over their head nor the badge of sole practitioner. 

‘Removal of the rules which prevent solicitors establishing their own firms immediately after they qualify could put vulnerable clients with complex legal problems in the hands of inexperienced, unsupervised lawyers.’ 

The SRA is also consulting on enforced publication of information on pricing, service and regulatory matters. 

Of these proposals Joe Egan said: ‘Regulation is a blunt instrument. Publishing a raft of information without proper context may cause confusion and not actually help consumers understand legal services.’ 

In contrast to regulated law firms, which would be forced to publish reams of information, the SRA has said that unregulated entities cannot be forced to publish anything about their business, including about the level of client protection they offer. 

‘It seems counter-intuitive that consumers should have less information about solicitors operating away from the protections of regulation,’ Joe Egan added. 

‘Most clients seek legal advice at moments of great anxiety and stress. Helping them to make informed choices about what is required to resolve their legal problems is at the heart of our work, as it should be for the SRA. 

‘The expertise and regulatory protection offered by a solicitor today means clients can be confident that their issue will be resolved as satisfactorily and speedily as possible. Public trust in solicitors provides stability and certainty for businesses and consumers - let’s not exchange that for a new Wild West.’

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