An online legal services pioneer has described the current rules preventing solicitors from practising at unregulated firms as “insane”.
Tessa Shepperson, a former solicitor who runs a housing law website, backed plans by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to change the rules – a move strongly resisted by the Law Society.
“The internet and technology are changing everything,” Ms Shepperson said. “The law has been slow to change but change it will have to do over the next 20 years or so.
“People are just not prepared to put up with the old inefficiencies and expensive and time-consuming ways of doing things. Not if there are quicker and cheaper alternatives.”
In a blog for her website, Landlord Law, Ms Shepperson said it was “highly likely” that in the future, legal services will be provided by “all sorts of organisations many of which will come from outside” the profession.
“It is insane to have a rule which actually forbids solicitors from working for these firms. These are the very firms where solicitors should work!
“My view is that the SRA is right and that the rules should and indeed must be changed if the solicitors’ profession is not to become irrelevant.”
Ms Shepperson gave up her practising certificate in 2013 to work full-time for her housing law website and later removed herself from the roll. She said the change in the rules would allow her to return to the roll and carry on giving telephone advice to clients without risk of prosecution.
The solicitor said the Law Society had criticised the SRA for denying clients the ability to rely on the “extensive insurance which solicitors are obliged take out as a condition of being in practice”, or to take their complaints to the Legal Ombudsman.
“Of course, this misses the point that most people, unless they are very rich, or poor enough to qualify for legal aid (in the few areas where legal aid is still available) can’t use solicitors anyway because they can’t afford them.
“So for them the options tend to be either using a cheaper non-regulated firm (such as mine – where they exist) or getting advice from the bloke down the pub. Who has no insurance cover at all.”
Ms Shepperson said changing the rules would be an “excellent idea” and allow her to return to the roll.
“When I closed down my solicitor’s practice in 2013 I was flabbergasted to learn that if I carried on giving any kind of legal advice or service it was illegal and I could technically be prosecuted.”
In order to be able to do “the odd telephone advice for clients”, Ms Shepperson said she had to come off the roll and was no longer allowed to call herself a solicitor.
“Most people seem to care not one iota that I am not longer a regulated solicitor. They are just pleased to find a service which is reliable and which they can afford.
“I would also like to point out that although unregulated I have professional indemnity insurance, have joined a redress scheme for clients to complain to (not that they have) and take a great deal of trouble over customer service. Something some regulated solicitors’ firms (despite what they say) are very bad at.
“There is no ‘magic’ about being a regulated firm which ensures that you provide a good service or value for money.”
The SRA’s plans to allow solicitors to practise from unregulated firms were approved by its board last summer and are due to be implemented by the end of this year.