"Simply being a solicitor is not enough" in ABS world, says Law Society chief


Hudson: SRA needs to understand regulatory failures, but not excuse them

Simply being a solicitor “is not enough” in the new legal market, but by raising standards further through accreditation schemes and using their brand recognition, solicitors can preserve a dominant market share, the Law Society’s chief executive has insisted.

Des Hudson said also told the Solicitors Regulation Authority not to adopt a default position where it automatically takes the opposite view to the Law Society.

In a speech earlier this week to Devon & Somerset Law Society, Mr Hudson said that while surveys show high levels of satisfaction with solicitors’ services, “the ground is already moving beneath our feet” with alternative business structures (ABSs).

He argued that accreditation schemes such as the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) have “a key role to play” in driving up standards, improving service, sharing best practice and creating consumer-facing brands for solicitors.

“I don’t think there is any salvation in going down-market, nor do I think a price-led strategy is a sustainable solution for our members. Being different, standing out, guaranteeing high standards of service and quality across the board and projecting those standards to a confused market is what it is all about.”

The society is working on a private client equivalent to CQS and Mr Hudson said robust standards would be vital in the new legal marketplace. “We can use our brand recognition and guarantee of quality service to lead the drive to become market leaders and preserve a dominant market share for our profession,” he claimed.

On the SRA, he called on solicitors to “get over the fact we won’t persuade them to our way of thinking the whole time”, but continued that the society needs the SRA to engage with it. “Just because the professional body says something, it doesn’t mean that the default position of the regulator is that they say the opposite.”

Mr Hudson said solicitors need a regulator “that understands that 99% of the profession are honest, hard working and want to do the right thing”; while less than 99% prepare properly for compliance, “the regulator needs to understand the very real pressure, issues and intense problems that are affecting many rural and high street solicitors. I am asking for the SRA to understand rather than excuse”.

He also said that the SRA needs to become a regulator of non-solicitor will-writers and estate administrators if and when such work is reserved. Asking why those ABSs which have chosen to be licensed by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers chose it over the SRA, he said: “What implications will it have for all of us if the lion’s share of the market does not choose us? If the SRA and the Law Society are diminished by a smaller voice and a smaller reach, then we – and here I mean you, my fellow solicitors – will be less effective.”

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