Competition in the law is to increase further after the Legal Services Board backed accountants to handle reserved probate work and set up alternative business structures (ABSs), as well as chartered legal executives to set up their own conveyancing and probate practices.
Both moves are likely to herald even more changes, with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) eyeing up litigation and other rights, and ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) the power to license ABSs.
The LSB is expected today to confirm that it will recommend to the Lord Chancellor that the ICAEW be given the power to grant its members the right to conduct probate work and form ABSs.
Describing the move as “a very considerable step for liberalisation in the legal services market”, LSB chairman David Edmonds said he hoped to see the ICAEW move on, in due course, to regulate litigation and other legal services “as we understand they hope to do”.
Mr Edmonds said allowing accountants to deliver reserved probate work, alongside related services they currently provide such as trust planning and estate administration, “will enable firms to offer a more integrated service to clients who, in non-contentious cases, will be able to use a single adviser, which in turn should have an impact on the overall cost of the service for consumers and increase competition”.
The ICAEW has pursued the twin approach so that sole practitioners and firms could become ‘authorised firms’ – in which all principals and owners are individually authorised to conduct probate – or ‘licensed bodies’ (the formal name for ABSs), in which not all principals and owners are authorised for probate.
Vernon Soare, the ICAEW’s executive director for professional standards, said: “In submitting our application to the LSB for probate and ABS licensing, ICAEW has been very aware of the need to regulate in such a way that the consumer is provided with high quality advice at a competitive fee.
“We are confident that ICAEW members and firms will rise to the challenge and we look forward to exploring the potential for adding other legal services to ICAEW’s regulatory remit in the future.”
Around 26% of members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) practise conveyancing, with a further 17% handling probate work, and with its new powers IPS will be able to authorise Fellows to do this work independently in their own businesses, rather than under the supervision of an authorised person, typically a solicitor or licensed conveyancer, as now.
Consequent decisions on rule changes for litigation and immigration services are expected shortly; chartered legal executives can already practise independently as advocates.
CILEx president Stephen Gowland – a personal injury specialist who had to dual-qualify as a solicitor in order to set up his own firm – said: “Allowing our experienced lawyers to practise independently in their area of specialism will stimulate the consumer legal services industry, create a more innovative market, and better meet consumer needs.”
IPS said it will apply in due course for the right to license ABSs.
Final approval for all these decisions – including the announcement earlier this week that the LSB has approved the Intellectual Property Regulation Board as an ABS licensing authority – rests with the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, with confirmation from Parliament.
IPS said that, if this approval is forthcoming, it will be ready to approve applications for authorisation for both individuals and entities in early 2015.