The prospect of chartered legal executives setting up their own law firms moved closer to reality yesterday after their regulator submitted an application for the full range of independent practice rights.
Although some Fellows of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) have already set up practices in unreserved areas of work like will-writing, CILEx and its regulatory arm – ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) – want to be able to authorise suitably qualified practitioners and businesses to provide probate, conveyancing, litigation, advocacy and immigration services.
The Legal Services Board – which is already considering an application from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to regulate probate work and alternative business structures – will have a year (extendable by a further four months) to decide on the application.
CILEx is already an approved regulator granting litigation and advocacy rights to members who are in employment, and a qualifying regulator for granting immigration practice rights.
IPS chairman Alan Kershaw said: “During the past year, the CILEx president and I have had many discussions about these applications with judges, politicians, legislators and other stakeholders and opinion formers. Throughout it was clear that chartered legal executives are held in high regard. They are up to the challenge of independent practice, and there was a degree of incredulity that CILEx members have been denied these rights for so long.
“This is an idea whose time has come. The challenge for IPS is to demonstrate to the Legal Services Board and the statutory consultees, and later to the Lord Chancellor and Parliament, not only that CILEx members are up to the job but that we have the capacity and capability to regulate them and the businesses they set up in a way which meets the statutory objectives and professional principles set out in the Legal Services Act.”
CILEx president Nick Hanning said: “We have supported our IPS colleagues in developing robust qualification and regulatory arrangements for the full range of practice rights. A huge amount of work has gone into the applications.
“I have every confidence it will provide a solid basis for CILEx members and others regulated by CILEx to exercise rights in relation to reserved activities in their own right, to manage their own firms or businesses offering legal services, or to lead legal departments, no longer held back by the lack of practice rights.
“CILEx is all about opportunity. Its open access approach to qualifications and membership brings an unrivalled measure of diversity to the legal services sector. What better vehicle for equality is there than to allow anyone capable of it to run their own business?”
Writing in the new issue of Prospect magazine, Conservative MP Dominic Raab, a former City solicitor, said the current restriction on chartered legal executives’ independent practice “makes little sense… [It] limits the aspirations of legal executives, and checks their ability to compete with solicitors on a level playing field”.
He said that “subject to meeting the criteria to ensure proper regulatory supervision, the application should be approved”.