An extraordinary war of words between the Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) stepped up yesterday after the regulator was accused of “seemingly seeking to undermine” Chancery Lane.
Wading back into the debate over whether the regulator should be completely independent, a Law Society spokesman said comments by the SRA’s leadership this week were “perhaps… an indication of the lack of value our regulator places on our profession”.
The row broke out in the wake of this week’s Legal Futures’ interview with Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon, in which she made the case against the SRA having the complete independence that upcoming government reforms are likely to effect, and urged the profession’s role in setting standards.
The SRA hit back, suggesting that independence was in the public interest and that the £35m from practising fees that currently go to the society could be returned to solicitors if it happened.
Responding to that, a Law Society spokesman said: “Individuals and businesses seek and depend on excellent legal advice at critical times. It is essential that consumers and businesses are protected by basic rules to ensure their money is safe, regardless of who is providing the advice. This is the role of effective regulation.
“The solicitor profession recognises the need for a professional body to represent, promote and support the profession. The Law Society undertakes that vital role and additionally has a public interest role to support access to justice, individual rights and freedoms, and uphold the rule of law. This role is considered to be so important that it is enshrined in legislation.
“The cost of the Law Society is significantly lower than that of the professions’ lay regulator, the SRA. We do not agree with the saving figure reported by the SRA. If we really want to cut the costs of regulation to the solicitor profession and reduce the practice certificate fee, it should be the profession that owns and set its own standards.
“This will enable a legal service regulator to properly and efficiently regulate the legal services market. This will reduce the regulatory burden on solicitors whilst ensuring that the public is protected when employing unregulated providers, which make up an increasingly large percentage of the legal service market.
“Solicitors are having to compete with unregulated providers and as a result the public interest is not protected and the legal service market is unfair.
“We are disappointed that the SRA is seemingly seeking to undermine the solicitors’ professional body and devalue its work. Perhaps this is an indication of the lack of value our regulator places on our profession and why it is so keen to remove any involvement of the solicitor profession in the setting of standards, entry levels, and the awarding of the professional title of solicitor from the profession.”