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‘Outdated’ Law Society is a trade union that needs reform according to SRA chief

UK solicitors setting their own standards allows them to 'mark their own homework', says Paul Philip

26 February 2016

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The Law Society’s trade union style membership model is ‘outdated’ and needs reform, the chief executive of the SRA has claimed.

The war of words between Chancery Lane and the Birmingham-based regulator continues to heat up following claims of conflict of interests at the profession's representative body. Last year, the government announced plans to make the SRA wholly independent of The Law Society, leading to fears that the solicitors’ trade body would be unable to fund its future existence.

The Law Society continues to resist the proposition of a total parting of ways with the SRA arguing that a separation would lead to a decline in professional standards. However, speaking to PoliticsHome, SRA chief executive Paul Philip backed the government's proposals.

Referring to recent polling, Philip said there was a ‘fundamental conflict between representing the interest of solicitors and those of the public’ and, therefore, a complete separation of powers was necessary.

The regulator’s chief executive added that change was needed to bolster public credibility in the profession because, ‘if solicitors set their own standards, it is essentially marking their own homework’.

‘Most people taking legal advice from a solicitor don't know much about the law and are relying on them doing the right thing’, he added. ‘That being the case, it is right that those setting and monitoring standards are independent and focused on the interests of the public, not the welfare of solicitors.’

Philip accepted that a clean break for the regulator would pose some challenges to Chancery Lane, specifically about how it would fund itself. Philip said: ‘Solicitors currently don't have the choice of whether to contribute to the funding of the Law Society or not. It is a mandatory tax whether the Law Society speaks for you or not, just like trade unions used to be. The model is outdated so this is one area in which I'm sure we'll see change.’

In January, Phillip said he would consider returning the society’s £35m cut of the practising certificate fee ‘back to the profession’, if the regulator became independent. Chancery Lane responded by saying it was disappointed the SRA was ‘seeking to undermine’ and ‘devalue its work’.

The current dispute recalls memories of earlier clash between the regulator and representative body. In 2013, the SRA accused The Law Society of taking a ‘very narrow view’ of regulation after the latter called for regulation be returned to Chancery Lane through an ‘arm's length division’.

By John van der Luit Drummond, Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

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