Fears that the rewritten SRA Handbook might not continue the ban on law firms cold-calling potential personal injury clients have been allayed by the regulator.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers spoke out last week after the new draft of the Handbook, published as part of its consultation on a major rewrite of the rules, the current rule which bans solicitors from cold-calling members of the public was omitted.
However, a spokesman from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said: “We have no intention of lifting the ban for solicitors working in personal injury and will make that clear in the final codes.”
The association’s president, Neil Sugarman, said: “This is very good news indeed. I am delighted that the SRA has listened to concerns, because it’s really important that we do as much as we can to get rid of the scourge of cold calling for personal injury.”
Meanwhile, the Law Society has upped its opposition to the SRA’s plan to allow solicitors to practise from unregulated businesses by releasing an opinion poll which it said showed “considerable disquiet” about the idea.
The society argues that allowing solicitors to offer services to the public without the safeguards embedded in law firms would create a two-tier profession and damages consumers.
The Ipsos-Mori poll of 1,647 people – of whom 36% had “direct” experience of solicitors in the past three years – found that 77% thought the businesses in which solicitors work should be regulated.
There was also strong support for advice being confidential, for their solicitor not advising the other party involved in their legal issue, for the businesses in which solicitors work having indemnity insurance, and for any money they pay to solicitors up front being held in a separate account.
Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “It’s clear from this survey that the changes to the rules governing solicitors are liable to be met with widespread opposition among the public. We urge the SRA to think again as their proposals will undermine public confidence in the solicitor profession and cause confusion for clients.”
An SRA spokesman said: “We have consulted extensively on our proposals throughout the summer, wanting to gather as wide a range of views as possible. The consultation ends on Wednesday and we hope our stakeholders continue to feed back on these important proposals, which look to strike the right balance between giving firms freedom and flexibility without reducing consumer protections.
“We will be interested to see the detail of this survey. What the headline figures show is that the public is unaware that there is already a large alternative legal market not subject to regulation over and above normal consumer law. That market is providing consumers with a choice of services at what might be, for some people, an affordable cost.
“Our proposals are designed to enhance the quality of services that people can access in that market, by allowing solicitors to work outside law firms. We are already very clear that solicitors and firms must make sure their clients are aware of what protections they have should things go wrong, and that requirement will continue.”