The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) taking over the regulation of chartered legal executives risks confusing consumers, the Law Society has argued.
It said the proposed change in their title to ‘chartered lawyers’ “appears to be a desire to raise the status of CILEX lawyers, in particular by comparison with solicitors”.
Chancery Lane’s response to the CILEX consultation on switching from its current regulator, CILEx Regulation Ltd (CRL), expressed strong opposition.
CILEX also proposed specialist chartered lawyer titles to “make it clearer to the public that CILEX lawyers with independent practice rights have parity with solicitor counterparts in these areas of practice”.
On qualification, CILEX lawyers would be given titles linked to their specialism, such ‘chartered probate lawyer’ or ‘chartered property lawyer’, while for contentious work, the new titles would be ‘chartered litigator and advocate’ with ‘family’, ‘civil’ or ‘crime’ in brackets afterwards.
The Law Society commissioned a YouGov survey of 2,236 adults last month that found consumers associating solicitors (76%) and barristers (61%) with the term ‘lawyer’, compared to 12% for CILEX professionals. A quarter said the term ‘chartered lawyer’ would be unhelpful.
The response said it would also be a problem in Welsh, as there was no separate word for ‘solicitor’ compared to ‘lawyer’.
Consumers would be confused by CILEX lawyers being regulated by the SRA given that it was not planning to change its name, the Law Society went on.
“The proposals appear to be an attempt by CILEX to re-brand some of its members to achieve an appearance of equivalence with solicitors in the eyes of consumers.
“While some legal executives are authorised to provide services in discrete areas such as conveyancing and probate amongst others, they should not be represented to the public as equivalent to solicitors because their knowledge, training, experience and scope of practice is limited to specific areas.”
The society said it would support the wider recognition of CILEX members, the roles they filled and “the valuable work they undertake”, but transferring regulation to the SRA “is not an appropriate or acceptable method for improving its profile”.
It argued too that with the SRA looking only to take over the regulation of chartered legal executives, another 9,000 CILEX members would still be overseen by CILEX. “This would be a backward step for the regulation and oversight of those persons,” the society said, and create “regulatory fragmentation”.
The Law Society described as “unacceptable” CILEX’s longer-term objective to combine the SRA’s proposed register of legal executives with the existing register of solicitors.
“It would surely lead to confusion for consumers over which members are qualified to be in each legal profession and which services they are authorised to conduct.”
Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: “There are serious issues with the proposals, which are unsupported by evidence that they will benefit the public and do not consider the wider regulatory context or the serious negative impact these changes will have on solicitors and chartered legal executives.
“CILEX’s key driver appears to be raising the status of CILEX lawyers to be on the same plain as solicitors or barristers – the two most comprehensively qualified legal professions.
“This is not something that can be achieved by sharing the same regulator with the solicitor profession, or by rebranding as chartered lawyers.”
He concluded that CILEX has “failed to demonstrate the necessity for redelegating its regulatory functions to the SRA”.