The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has attacked the Law Society for over-stepping its remit in launching a potentially dramatic review into the regulation of the legal profession.
The Law Society publicly announced a review yesterday (TheLawyer.com, 9 October), which could ultimately see large corporate firms fall under separate regulation from their high street counterparts.
The SRA immediately responded with a strongly-worded statement, in which the body’s chair Peter Williamson said the Law Society appeared to be “confusing representative and regulatory functions”.
Russell Wallman, director of government relations at the Law Society, responded: “I am slightly surprised at that… We know perfectly well which decisions are for us and which aren’t.”
The SRA had only been told about the review into its powers on Wednesday (8 October), the day before the Law Society made it public. Williamson said it was “extraordinary” that the SRA, which was recently established by the Law Society to regulate the profession, was given such short notice.
A source close to the situation commented: “I am not surprised. The SRA wants to be independent and isn’t very keen on oversight, but there needs to be oversight.”
The Legal Services Board, which was established under the Legal Services Act 2007, will ultimately be responsible for policing the boundaries between the Law Society’s representative and the SRA’s regulatory functions. However, it is currently finalising its appointments and will not be operational before 2009.
Legal Services Board chief executive designate Chris Kenny said: “The whole split between regulatory representative will be high on the LSB agenda once it takes its powers. But we are not passing any judgment now.”
The Law Society hopes to conclude its review by summer 2009.
Chair of the City of London Law Society David MacIntosh said: “In my mind, the Law Society is undoubtedly responding to a demand for a better understanding of how important and necessary regulation fits in with the overall, and in the City’s case, commercial and international practice of law, which differs markedly from domestic practice.”
The Law Society panel reviewing the issue will be made up of a wide-range of lawyers and consumers of legal services. It will be led by an independent reviewer, described by Wallman as an “extremely distinguished” individual. The names of the panel members will be announced next week.
The SRA said it would contribute to the review, although it is also holding independent talks with City firms on the most appropriate way of regulating them.