The process of enabling chartered legal executives to set up their own practices has begun with their regulator looking for the power to award them rights to conduct litigation, conveyancing and probate without needing the supervision of a solicitor.
A raft of consultations issued by ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) also demonstrates its plans to become an entity regulator that will offer another option for prospective alternative business structures (ABSs).
IPS plans to split litigation rights into three certificates – civil, criminal and family – as it currently does for advocacy and will also seek to extend the existing advocacy rights for chartered legal executives so that they can be exercised in independent practice, and not just as employees or partners in solicitors’ practices as now.
The application for probate rights will not be limited to chartered legal executives (also called Fellows of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, or CILEx) as “we seek to regulate members by activity based on competence rather than title”. This lays the ground for IPS seeking to regulate will-writers if and when their work becomes reserved. The plans for conveyancing rights (formally called reserved instrument activities) are similarly not restricted to Fellows.
IPS is also consulting on its plans for a formal scheme for the assessment and accreditation of immigration practitioners, for whom it is already a qualifying regulator, and its approach was recently commended by the Legal Services Board.
There are further consultations on revising IPS’s Code of Conduct, given that it may no longer just be CILEx members subject to it in future, as well as on insurance and compensation arrangements, and its complaints and disciplinary system.
Once finalised, the applications and any other rule changes will require the approval of the Legal Services Board
IPS chairman Alan Kershaw said: “Consultation on these critical issues is a decisive step in our drive to secure for chartered legal executives the independent practice rights which have long been their due.
“There can be no doubt that a CILEx member, within the scope of the work they do, is fully as competent as a solicitor doing similar work. So there is no longer any case for denying them the right to practise in their own names and, if they wish, to set up their own firms offering legal services.
“IPS has shown itself well able to assess competence in the legal specialties, and to intervene when a legal firm is failing. We have some innovative ideas and aim, by offering an attractive alternative to existing schemes, to become the regulator of choice for legal firms, including ABSs in due course.”
Helen Whiteman, head of corporate affairs at CILEx, said: “Securing additional rights for chartered legal executives will reinforce the positive advances we have made as a profession, acting in the public interest, as judges, advocates and partners. It is time to embrace a sea-change in the legal marketplace which will deliver parity for all, regardless of entry route into the profession.
“The flexibility and accessibility of our qualifications and training makes us an attractive proposition to those considering law as a career. There has never been a better time for us to demonstrate the capability of our profession, nor for our members and potential members to realise their professional aspirations. It’s all about providing and promoting choice for consumers.”
Some chartered legal executives already run their own practices in unreserved areas of work, while many became partners in law firms following the advent of legal disciplinary practices, with a number setting up firms with solicitor partners.