SRA: ‘Independent solicitors’ could come together in chambers

Chambers: Time for solicitors to follow the Bar?

The new breed of freelance solicitor – or what will officially be called an ‘independent solicitor’ – could join forces with others in a chambers-style arrangement, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has suggested.

The regulator yesterday issued a series of guidance notes on its new Standards & Regulations rulebook, which comes into force on 25 November.

Currently, any solicitor practising alone must have their practice authorised as a recognised sole practice. However, the new rules mean that solicitors will not need to do this if they only provide non-reserved legal services, and even reserved activities in certain circumstances.

The SRA said it used the term ‘independent solicitor’ to describe a self-employed solicitor who practised on their own and did not employ anyone else in connection with the services they provided; practised in their own name, rather than under a trading name or through a service company; and was engaged directly by clients with fees payable directly to them.

The guidance said the employee ban was not intended to prevent solicitors from contracting with others to provide administrative support, “as long as this does not amount to employing those others”.

“One distinction may be, for example, that those that supply the support services do so for others as well as yourself and are not otherwise treated as your employees.

“So, for example you will be able to come together with others in a chambers arrangement as self-employed solicitors where the chambers provides administrative and business support [or] see clients from a ‘maintained office’ where the host provides reception and other administrative and secretarial services.”

It said that, under a chambers arrangement, any joint website would have to make it clear that the services were provided by the solicitors as independent practitioners, and letters and bills would have to go out in their individual names and not in the name of the chambers.

To also provide reserved work, independent solicitors will need to have practised for at least three years, have a practising address in the UK, take out and maintain indemnity insurance “that provides adequate and appropriate cover in respect of the services that you provide or have provided” – because the minimum terms and conditions will not apply to this class of solicitor – and only hold client money when it is for payments on account of unbilled costs and disbursements.

If the client needs to pay, or is due to receive, other types of client money, the solicitor will need to make other arrangements, such as a third-party managed account.

The new rules will also enable solicitors to practise and give advice to the public from unregulated businesses where they are not handling reserved or otherwise regulated work (such as immigration or claims management services).

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