Certificates deadline warning

SOLICITORS were warned this week to provide the cash for their practising certificates or risk being struck off and sued by clients.

Lawyers who miss the 1 November deadline could be forced to pay back fees, it has emerged.

Each year the Law Society cancels about 3,000 certificates. The majority are solicitors' who alert the society that they are no longer practising.

But Sarah Adams, manager of regulatory functions, says a few hundred who fail to respond to warning letters from the society have their certificates terminated and their names referred to the Solicitors' Complaints Bureau (SCB).

The Solicitors Act bars “unqualified persons”, which includes those without certificates, from “recovering” costs.

Adams says it is “a moot point” whether clients could claim back fees from solicitors who had been late renewing.

She stresses that all certificates remain valid until they are cancelled by the society which usually gives a short period of grace before taking action.

This year certificates cost u495 with reduced rates available to lower turnover firms.

Those who practise without certificates are technically committing a disciplinary offence but a SCB spokeswoman says no figures are available for the number of solicitors disciplined on these grounds.

The society also passes on details to lending institutions, the Legal Aid Board and local law societies.

A LAB spokeswoman says: “We pay legal aid fees retrospectively. If we found that a solicitor had done a legal aid case without a practising certificate, we would be entitled not to pay.”