Regulation within the legal industry

 

When we talk to clients, one of the things that they are most worried about is whether they can trust the solicitor/legal specialist not to take advantage of them and charge exorbitant rates.

For the majority of professions – plumbers, electricians, mechanics etc – there is a natural fear amongst consumers that they will be overcharged for something they don’t understand.

With solicitors, the fear is that an hourly rate could be dragged out and become a crippling debt. This is compounded by the lack of understanding of what solicitors actually do.

When it comes to understanding how to manage the costs, and ensure that you’re not being overcharged, we have lots of information. Go to our agreements, fees and costs page and have a browse.

But what about reassurance on how solicitors are regulated?

How do you know you are protected against rogue solicitors?

All solicitors, whether sole practitioners or huge ‘magic circle’ firms, have to follow the same professional principles and code of conduct. This is managed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The SRA is an independent regulatory body, and it is the users of legal services who are their focus. The role of the SRA is to protect the consumer by providing a regulatory framework within which solicitors and firms must work.

SRA Principles

Principles which firms must abide by include:

  • Act with integrity
  • Act in the best interests of each client
  • Protect client money and assets

The opening chapter of the SRA code insists that solicitors ‘treat their clients fairly’. Clients must be in a position to make informed decisions about:

  • The services they need
  • How their matter will be handled
  • The options available to them

As mentioned, the focus of the SRA is to protect you, the consumer.

The SRA also provides a complaints method for consumers. What’s important here is that any complaints should try to be resolved with the solicitor first, then if the issue is about service the complaint should go to the Legal Ombudsman. The SRA will get involved if a Principle has been breached – and they have ultimate authority to close down a firm.

This framework maintains the integrity of the vast majority of firms. Naturally there will always be rogue firms as in any industry, but there is a system set up to help consumers. And speaking to us first always helps – the firms we use are firms we know, and have had previous clients, so we get feedback all the time. And our case handlers are experienced, and will often be able to give you an idea of what to expect in terms of cost and time before you even talk to a solicitor.

The regulation of other legal specialists

Our case handlers can also advise on when working with a different legal specialist is appropriate. We work with mediators, will writers, debt collection specialists and employment tribunal representatives, amongst others. Many mediators will have Law Society accreditations to demonstrate their skill and knowledge – this will help them to stand out and also shows they are regulated by the SRA.

Will writing is a little more complicated – solicitors often offer this, and as such are regulated by the SRA. However, will writing is currently unregulated, and we work with many unregulated will writers in order to offer clients as much choice as possible. They will be cheaper, and as such are often an attractive alternative to solicitors, but there is an associated risk.

If you are in any way concerned, simply ask the legal professional before you commit to any work. Like any industry, you, the client, have the choice to pick and choose whoever you want to work with.

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