The regulation of legal services
The regulation of legal services in England and Wales is complex. This is partly because, as we learned earlier in the week, there are nine different types of authorised persons who provide legal services. Each of those professionals has their own regulator. The complexity is also because, and as we learned at the start of the week, not all legal services are regulated in the same way. Some people can give some forms of legal advice without being regulated by specific legal services regulation.
Any legal service which is not specifically regulated or what is known as ‘reserved’ (litigation, advocacy, elements of the transfer of property and probate work, in particular) is known as ‘unreserved’ legal work and can be provided by anyone. For example, anyone can provide legal advice on the buying and selling of a company. Where unreserved legal advice is given by someone who is not a regulated person, other forms of law are available to offer protection (for example, consumer services regulation). This split – between: (i) authorised persons and those not authorised by legal services regulators; and (ii) reserved and unreserved work – is one of the peculiarities of legal services regulation in England and Wales.
The main piece of law governing legal services in England and Wales is the Legal Services Act 2007. The main impacts of the Act were as follows:
Complaints about the legal profession now go to a dedicated Legal Ombudsman (whereas previously the professions would deal themselves with complaints made against them)
The professions were split into two: representative entities; and ‘front line’ regulatory entities. These were meant to be independent of each other, but that has, in practice, been somewhat contested. The professions, historically self-regulating and self-governing, were given the status of approved regulators.
An oversight regulator was created, the Legal Services Board (LSB), with powers over the approved ‘front line’ regulators.
The rules restricting ownership of law firms to lawyers were replaced with rules permitting outside ownership of law firms and non-lawyer owner/managers (Alternative Business Structures).
The diagram below sets out the different regulators of legal services in England and Wales and who they regulate, as well as the relevant representative body. For example, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the entity responsible for regulating solicitors, under the auspices of the Legal Services Board. The Law Society is the representative body (effectively, a trade union) for solicitors.
The Legal Services Board is the overarching regulator of legal services in England and Wales that oversees regulation of legal services and in certain circumstances can act as a regulator of last resort. It is a small organisation, around 30 staff and eight board members. The Legal Services Board:
oversees the ‘front line’ regulators who, in turn, regulate nine different professionals all engaged in various aspects of legal services provision; and,
oversees the organisation established to handle consumer complaints about lawyers, the Office for Legal Complaints.
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