Solicitor MP clashes with CILEX leaders over regulatory reforms

Daly: Deliberate destruction of solicitors’ profession

A solicitor MP yesterday clashed with the leaders of CILEX over the body’s planned reforms, including using the title ‘chartered lawyer’ and creating chartered paralegals.

It came after CILEX chair Professor Chris Bones criticised the Law Society for “misrepresenting” chartered legal executives as being “somehow part qualified, lesser, not quite the same standard”.

Both were speaking at an evidence session on the regulation of the legal profession held by the House of Commons’ justice select committee.

James Daly, a former criminal defence solicitor and now a Conservative MP, accused CILEX of wanting no distinction between different types of lawyer and thus proposing “the deliberate destruction of the solicitors’ profession”.

The plans to change titles and change regulator to the Solicitors Regulation Authority aimed “to create parity where parity doesn’t exist”, he argued, with all legal professionals using the generic title of lawyer.

CILEX chief executive Linda Ford rejected this characterisation of its reforms, which are opposed by the current regulator, CILEx Regulation.

“We want distinction in the legal profession. We are not looking to culminate all of the different routes [to qualification] into one ultimate profession end goal. We are strongly of the view that we should maintain the distinction of both the routes and the types of professionals that those different routes create.

“But we do want the system to recognise that where the Legal Services Act and the authorisation rights that come out of that create parity, that parity is recognised, visible and understood by those providing and using legal services.”

Asked by Labour MP Tahir Ali about the attitudes of other legal professionals to chartered legal executives, Professor Bones said the Bar Council has proven “broadly supportive”, as were individual solicitors and employers. The issue was, “at times”, the attitude of the Law Society.

He talked about one of CILEX’s leading women advocates and litigators, who often represented clients in the Court of Protection. “Because the Law Society continued to misrepresent our qualifications as somehow being part qualified, lesser, not quite the same standard, our senior litigator in the Court of Protection was challenged by a solicitor as unqualified and had to in front of the judge to justify herself and her professional qualification before she was allowed to proceed.

“[That’s] mid-20th century behavior. It is both insulting generally to women in law, but particularly insulting to people who come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds – 77% of our members went to non-selective state schools. They didn’t get the best break in life. Many didn’t get the public-funded university education solicitors do.

“And I think the attitude of the Law Society [has] been picked up by some of its members claiming that we are not as qualified.”

Ms Ford added that CILEX was keen to help the Law Society and solicitors generally “understand how far the chartered legal executive profession has come”.

Professor Bones pointed to developments such as independent practice rights and the opening up of judicial appointments – recently expanded to recorder and Upper Tribunal posts – to chartered legal executives, as well as the Department for Education’s announcement in the summer that CILEX apprenticeships would for the first time receive the same level of funding as solicitor apprenticeships, after the Institute for Apprenticeships graded them as being at the same level.

On titles, Ms Ford explained that the shift aimed to overcome widespread consumer confusion about what a chartered legal executive was – CILEX’s research showed that ‘chartered’ was a term people were familiar with.

“We fully appreciate that the term lawyer can’t be protected and there’s no intention to do that. In our proposals, what we’re trying to do is create a title that recognises that they are both chartered lawyers, but they’re also specialists. So the proposals we’ve been recently consulting on are to introduce the specialisms in which they qualify into the title, for example chartered property lawyer, chartered litigator.”

Mr Daly said: “I think what you’re trying to do is effectively create a legal profession on the cheap where standards don’t matter, intellectual rigour don’t matter, academic standards don’t matter. And that the idea that you can regulate paralegals is for the absolute birds personally.

“I think that, if we are to follow what you’ve suggested here today, we are turning the legal profession literally into anybody without a qualification can call themselves a lawyer and be judged of a similar parity. We will see a complete deterioration in standards.

“It’s a very sad day for the legal profession in general and for the profession that I’ve been a very proud part of for 20 years if these proposals were to go ahead,

Professor Bones said there was “an alternative view”, namely that “there is a new and growing set of alternative methods of qualifying to deliver high-quality legal services to consumers that are properly regulated to a proper standard”.

Committee chair Sir Bob Neill asked whether there was a danger that having the same body regulating both solicitors and chartered legal executives would actually blur the distinction between them, rather than clear it up.

Professor Bones said: “We’re getting into a topic that’s quite difficult to talk about because we’re in the middle of a formal process. I think the answer is it depends how that is executed, whether or not there are distinctive different regulatory environments or not.”

The CILEX board is due to decide on whether to press ahead with its reforms, following a recent consultation, shortly.

The Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority will give evidence to the committee next week.

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