“The SRA has made the right call on freelance working and it is up to us small firm practitioners, to grasp the opportunity it presents”, suggests Sophie Khan, solicitor director at Sophie Khan & Co and panel chair at the Small Firms Division summer networking event.
On 25 November 2019, the new rules on practising as a solicitor will come into play.
Last month, the Legal Services Board (LSB) approved the client protection arrangements in support of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) plans for solicitors to offer legal services through unregulated businesses and to allow self-employed solicitors to work on a freelance basis.
The Law Society, working hard on our behalf, has rightly scrutinised the SRA’s plans and raised some compelling and important concerns about the impact of the change, pointing to the risks of eroding vital client protections, lowering standards and diminishing the solicitor brand.
Now that the LSB has given the green light however, I, along with many small firm solicitors and sole practitioners, can finally reveal a guilty secret: enthusiastic support for a new and different way for us to work.
I believe that not only will opportunities be created for solicitors to work in a truly flexible way, but it is likely that many unreserved legal services will now be provided with the necessary regulatory protection, and rules on providing reserved legal activities will be bespoke to each and every freelance solicitor, rather than the present one-size fits all model.
In my view we should congratulate, not criticise, the SRA’s foresight in creating what has been dubbed ‘a new breed of solicitor’.
I think the SRA recognised the level of competition that solicitors’ firms, especially the smaller firms face, and concluded that without changing the regulatory framework, the solicitors’ brand’ could not survive.
Also, I urge everyone to consider another potential outcome: a positive effect on the level of diversity among the profession.
Women, and black and minority ethnic solicitors who face obstacles in progression and promotion in the dominantly white-male run firms, could find themselves empowered to carve out their own space and be leaders in their field of expertise outside of the constraints that exist in a firm structure.
We could witness the dawn of a new and dynamic working culture, which does not undermine the standards of the legal services compared to those provided by solicitors who work at a firm but instead bring about innovative approaches to the delivery of those services.
With the courts reforms in full swing and designed to an extent to create a court system without lawyers, this is the right time for the SRA to place importance on being a legally qualified professional.
Although, the SRA may not see it this way, their push for being a freelance solicitor counters many of the arguments made by the Ministry of Justice to justify the £1 billion on court modernisation.
The freelance solicitor will be able to bring a changed approached to costs for individuals and small businesses, and by working outside of the traditional norms be more accessible.
The solicitors’ profession was built on the backs of individuals. The new regulatory reforms are no more than echoes of the past and will ensure that there is a solicitors’ profession for future generations.
Sophie Khan is solicitor director at Sophie Khan & Co. Solicitors and Higher Court Advocates, a niche firm specialising in civil liberties and human rights and member of the Law Society’s Small Firms Committee.