Our Practice Advice team has put together some of their most frequently asked questions (and answers) on current compliance issues.
This article is compiled by the Law Society’s Practice Advice Service. The Law Society’s Practice Advice Service is a confidential telephone helpline for Law Society members.
Our team of solicitors answer questions on current compliance issues.
Comments relating to the questions should be sent to email@example.com.
Q1: I am a solicitor who would like to move away from private practice to provide will writing services via an accountancy firm. Am I able to do so and is there a minimum post qualification requirement?
The SRA Standards and Regulations 2019 (STARs), allow solicitors to deliver non-reserved legal services to the public on behalf of a business that is not authorised by a legal services regulator.
This enables solicitors to provide non-reserved legal services to ‘the public or a section of the public’—ie clients outside of the organisation the solicitor is employed by and this includes commercial clients as well as individuals. There is no minimum post qualification experience required to work as a solicitor within an unregulated entity, therefore, even newly qualified solicitors are permitted to work in such an environment.
You will need to comply with the relevant STARs including the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors as you are still accountable to the SRA even though your employer is not. You may therefore want to ensure that your employer allows you access to relevant training and advice from experienced solicitors, for example, if you are dealing with more complex wills. This may include engaging an external law firm to provide advice where appropriate.
It is also important to ensure that your employer has an adequate complaints-handling procedure in place, in relation to your work and the work you supervise, which is compliant with the SRA requirements. In addition, in communication with your clients you should make it clear that clients have the right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman about the services you are providing and to the SRA about your professional conduct but they will have no right to complain about your employer or services provided by non-authorised persons (unless those individuals are supervised by an authorised person.
For further information, please see the Law Society’s Practice Note on Solicitors offering legal services to the public from unregulated entities.
Q2: I intend to set up as a freelance solicitor providing legal advice in a niche area of law. I want to work from home and although I have provided the SRA with my home address, I am concerned about providing this to clients. Will an email address be sufficient?
An email address will not be sufficient. To comply with the general information requirements set out in the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, you will need to provide clients with details of a geographical address for the purpose of communication and complaint handling requirements. You should consider what is an appropriate practising address for your freelance solicitor practice. If you are going to practise from home, do consider safety issues where clients or disgruntled parties could turn up at your home address.
Your practice address will need to be acceptable to the SRA regarding confidentiality and avoiding conflicts of interest. For instance, if you are going to use a serviced office, you will need to ensure that client-related calls cannot be overheard, client files are stored securely, and your computer equipment is not accessible by others
For further information, please see the Consumer Contract Regulations 2013 Practice note and the Freelance Solicitors Practice note.
Q3: I am the COLP for a medium sized firm. We regularly undertake file reviews of all fee earners including partners’ files. These reviews can be time consuming. Is there any guidance available on the minimum number of files that we must review?
The SRA Standards and Regulations 2019 require that you effectively supervise work being done for clients. File reviews form an important part of supervision. The Code of Conduct for Firms, paras 2.1, 2.3 and 4.3 and the Code of Conduct for Solicitors, para 3.5(b) sets out general duties and file reviews is one of the ways of fulfilling these requirements, but it is not prescriptive.
There is no specific information on the minimum number of files that you must review. When deciding on the number of files to review, factors to consider include:
- the fee earner’s experience
- previous file reviews
- the risk profile of the practice area
The scope of the file review should include all fee earners, including partners. It is up to your firm to decide the number and frequency of file reviews, as well as who should conduct these to enable you to spot any issues or trends that may need to be addressed.
If your firm has any accreditations you may wish to check whether they have any specific requirements for file reviews.
Q4: I am a training principal in a medium-sized firm and one of our trainee solicitors will qualify in six months’ time. Does the Law Society have guidance regarding notice periods for the retention of trainee solicitors who are about to qualify?
As a matter of good practice we recommend that your firm informs the trainee solicitor of the time at which she can expect to receive your decision about retention no later than 12 weeks prior to the trainee’s expected admission date. Your firm should inform the trainee of the decision no later than 8 weeks prior to the trainee’s expected admission date. In the event that your firm is unable to provide the relevant information within the recommended timeframe, you should inform the trainee that you are unable to do so and, where possible, provide reasonable information as to why it is not possible at that time.
For further information, please see our guidance.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. The Law Society does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information given.
This article is compiled by the Law Society’s Practice Advice Service. Comments relating to the questions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org