CILEX: Members, consumers and employers back SRA switch

Ford: Changes in the public interest

CILEX has reported strong support from members, employers and consumers for its plans to change regulator to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and introduce new professional titles.

The reforms to the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives’ governance, membership structure and regulatory delegation will now move forward, although the latter is dependent on the outcome of the SRA’s own consultation, the results of which will be discussed at its board meeting on 23 January.

Overall, the consultation generated 1,211 contributions, spread between individual responses via an online questionnaire, those who participated in webinars or at in-person events, and roundtable discussions held for both employers and consumers. IPSOS Mori also carried out a survey of 2,237 members of the public.

Two-thirds of CILEX members agreed that regulation by the SRA “provides opportunity to establish and maintain consumer confidence that lawyers, regardless of whether through the CILEX route or the solicitor route, enter the profession through robust processes and are required to meet and maintain high standards of competence”, the summary of responses said.

Among their concerns were cross-subsidy in light of the collapse of Axiom Ince – given its likely impact on contributions to the SRA Compensation Fund – and fears over “the loss of distinct professional identity and influence”, with CILEX lawyers being “swallowed up” and “forgotten” among the much larger cohort of solicitors.

CILEX said it would seek additional assurances and clarifications from the SRA on these and other issues, such as how it would regulate CILEX members who are not ‘authorised persons’ (ie, chartered legal executives).

The response paper said some of the feedback back demonstrated confusion about how the current system of legal regulation worked and also about the proposals – such as the incorrect suggestion that only chartered legal executives and not paralegals would be overseen by the SRA.

Unsurprisingly, consumers were particularly unaware of how legal regulation worked and surprised to learn solicitors and chartered legal executives had different regulators. They “consistently expressed a strong preference for a unified regulatory body”. The SRA published similar research last month.

CILEX acknowledged the critical responses from its existing regulator, CILEX Regulation, and the Law Society.

The latter, it said, included “statements in respect of the status, competence and specialist nature of both the CILEX qualification and practising certificate that are contrary to the equal recognition and status granted to CILEX Lawyers under the Legal Services Act and by government in its recognition of the CILEX qualification as an equally valid alternative to the solicitor routes to fully qualify as a lawyer”.

For these purposes, a CILEX Lawyer is a chartered legal executive with independent practice rights as well.

The responses led CILEX to make revisions to the new professional titles it proposed, which it said would be clearer – the consumer research found little understanding of ‘chartered legal executive’.

They will now include ‘CILEX’ – “to retain the link to the CILEX qualification and distinct professional identity” – as ‘CILEX Chartered Lawyer’.

It will include specialism only for those conducting reserved work – such as CILEX Chartered Litigator and Advocate and CILEX Chartered Property Lawyer – but those undertaking unreserved work could choose to put their area of specialism at the end of the title, e.g. CILEX Chartered Lawyer (Employment).

On the other issues, there was strong support for:

  • Establishing a new paralegal standards framework and career ladder, offering the opportunity to become a chartered paralegal linked to a professional register; and
  • Extending voting rights and enabling representation from all member grades to sit on the CILEX professional board, and for chartered paralegals in addition to chartered lawyers to be eligible to become CILEX president.

CILEX chief executive Linda Ford said: “We are encouraged by the engagement we have had from our members, employer organisations and from across the legal profession, as well as the consumer research we have undertaken.

“These insights have been extremely useful in ensuring that any changes we make will be in the public interest, improving consumer trust and confidence and supporting the important role CILEX professionals have in the delivery of legal services.”

The next step will be to prepare a formal application to the Privy Council to secure changes to CILEX’s Royal Charter and byelaws.

CILEX said it would announce the next steps with regard to regulation after the SRA’s board meeting.

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