Accountants should promote and extend their ability to give clients legal advice, and also have the right to conduct litigation and advocacy, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has said.
The decision on what legal services should be reserved, and to which members of a professional body, should be guided by the need to protect the interests of clients, and “not eliminate effective competition”.
Writing in the institute’s magazine, head of business law Felicity Banks said: “Many accountants are highly skilled and not just in taxation, company law and filing requirements. A working knowledge of health and safety, employment and discrimination law is required to understand and service the business sector.
“Such legal services have been successfully provided to clients, with ICAEW oversight, because the giving of general legal advice is not one of the reserved legal services – a fact that comes as a surprise to many lawyers. That it can be provided cost effectively and without fuss as a regular part of an accountant’s professional relationship is something that should be promoted and extended, in the public interest and in that of the clients.
“For those accountants who have the knowledge and skill to extend these services to conducting litigation and providing advocacy services in the courts, why not?”
Last week it emerged that the ICAEW is intended to apply for its members to have the right to conduct reserved probate activity (see story). Ms Banks said that having probate reserved “has been causing irritation and additional costs to many accountants and their clients”. A solicitor has to be contracted to apply for probate, “when the accountant has carried out every other function in dealing with the estate of a deceased person and is more than capable of completing the application but is prevented by law from doing so”.
She drew on the recent research on reserved legal activities by Professor Stephen Mayson of the Legal Services Institute – which showed no coherent basis for the current reserved activities (see story) – to highlight how “irritating” and illogical the situation is.
She pointed out that Legal Services Board research found that many small businesses source their advice on tax and regulatory affairs from an accountant, rather than a lawyer.
Both the ICAEW and Law Society are awaiting the outcome of the Prudential case, in which both intervened on opposite sides of the argument of whether legal professional privilege extends to the clients of accountants (see story).