The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) published its consultation, Looking to the Future, on 1 June. The deadline for responses is 21 September.

We believe that the proposals for changes to the Handbook for solicitor and firm regulation, if accepted, will leave clients and consumers with less protection and could result in a ‘two-tier’ solicitor profession.

The SRA proposals will enable solicitors to work for unregulated entities providing unreserved legal activities1 to the public. Such solicitors will be subject to a new Code of Conduct for Solicitors but the organisations they work for will not be subject to the SRA’s proposed new Code of Conduct for Firms, which will continue to uphold a range of current protections for clients and consumers.

This has potentially serious implications in a number of areas including: client protection, legal professional privilege, professional supervision, competition and the standing of the solicitor profession. There are also a number of areas of ambiguity in the proposals which will require further clarification from the SRA such as the precise application of the new rules to sole practitioners. 

Although the proposed changes seek to simplify the SRA Handbook, there are a significant number of ambiguities. It is also clear that client protection will be eroded, especially when clients instruct solicitors in unregulated entities. Clients will have different protections depending on where the solicitor works. We are concerned that this is not in the interests of the profession, its clients or the public which relies on a strong and vibrant legal profession to uphold the rule of law.

The Law Society has produced a briefing designed to help our members to consider the implications of the proposed changes, and is seeking members’ views through events, briefings, discussions with local law societies and an online survey.