Three more unregulated businesses have been given the green light to offer unreserved legal services to the public through practising solicitors.
The waivers from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) come ahead of the controversial change in November which will allow any solicitor to practise from an unregulated entity.
In-house lawyers at a further three organisations have been given limited permission to advise external clients.
Last year, it emerged that, as part of the SRA’s innovation space initiative, eight unregulated businesses had been granted waivers that allowed their employed solicitors to provide legal services to the public and call themselves solicitors while doing so. These included Which? Legal, Peninsula and Rocket Lawyer.
One of the new waivers said that “allowing solicitors to describe themselves as such increases public trust and confidence in the legal services provided by the business”.
Last year, the SRA introduced a streamlined waiver policy which removes the requirement that there be “exceptional circumstances” justifying a waiver from the SRA Handbook.
The SRA also began publishing online the waiver decisions it has made since late July 218. Some 35 have now been added to the original 23.
The new unregulated firms are:
Stockport-based Peach Law, which describes itself as a “boutique employment law, HR and mediation” business. The SRA said: “Without a waiver, [Peach Law] would have to outsource some legal services, resulting in a fragmented customer service and additional costs.”
Moorepay Ltd, a payroll and HR company with offices across the north of England. The SRA said: “The waiver will allow them to improve the effectiveness of bids for new clients and therefore enables them to compete on a level playing field with their competitors.
“Allowing for more choice and for cost savings which are passed on to consumers facilitates access to justice and is of public benefit.”
Element Legal Services, a “flexible resourcing business” that provides in-house counsel with freelance lawyers as and when they need them. It has offices in Glasgow and London.
The waiver said: “Element is an established business that employs solicitors. Allowing these solicitors to practise as such in respect of unreserved legal services to other law firms and in house legal teams is low risk and Element have professional indemnity insurance in place which is adequate for the risk incurred in their business.
“A waiver will enable Element to offer a more seamless service to their clients as the legal activities complement the non-legal activities that they already provide to their clients.
“These services will be provided at competitive rates and those costs savings will ultimately be passed on to the end consumers. Granting a waiver is therefore of public benefit and promotes competition in the legal services market.”
Each waiver is subject to a series of conditions, including that the solicitors they employ do not undertake any reserved legal activities or immigration work.
Further, the businesses must have in place professional indemnity insurance “which is reasonably equivalent” to the cover that the SRA requires of law firms, and make clients aware of the way the services provided to them are regulated and the protections available to them.
The businesses are also required to ensure “compliance with the relevant provisions in the SRA Handbook, including having systems and procedures in place to identify conflicts of interest and to ensure client confidentiality”. This includes all staff receiving training on client confidentiality.
The in-house waivers went to:
- Holy Trinity Brompton, so that its solicitors could to act for other members of the Holy Trinity Brompton Group in London, a small group of five Christian charities that all share a common purpose and background, operate common policies, rely on a central back-office, and share the same premises;
- Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, so that its in-house solicitor can advise the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Staffordshire Commissioner Fire and Rescue Authority; and
- North of England Protecting and Indemnity Association, a Newcastle-based marine mutual liability insurer, so that its solicitors can provide legal services to policyholders
Other waivers of note include one for Elizabeth Smart, who is allowed to be the sole lawyer manager of Sheffield Hallam University’s recently licensed alternative business structure despite having less than three years of recent practising experience.
The SRA said: “A nominal risk to consumer protection is mitigated in the specific circumstances of the application: SHU will have a strict supervision policy and will selectively take on work, rejecting cases deemed urgent, too complicated, too costly, or where there is simply insufficient resource. This is possible on account of its not-for-profit nature.
“The applicant does have some prior experience of practice and exceptional management experience in the legal education sector. The COLP and COFA have a combined 22 years of experience in practice.”
LawWorks Clinics has had its waivers renewed so that solicitors can volunteer without having individually to meet the requirements of the SRA’s compulsory insurance scheme and rules on complaints handling.
LawWorks needs to ensure that it has “adequate and appropriate” insurance and a complaints procedure.
A spokesman said: “We are clear that pro bono legal work should always be done to a high standard underpinned by appropriate insurance; there are some settings and circumstances where the SRA recognise that LawWorks can provide such cover, and that volunteer lawyers need flexibility in how they practice.
“This has been re-enforced by a helpful position statement from the SRA on volunteering that says ‘We want to encourage those willing and able to carry out pro bono work to do so’.”