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Legal executives could soon be granted powers to set up their own independent firms if proposals by the Legal Services Board super-regulator are adopted. Under the plans, which are expected to come into being next year, members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) would be able to practice independently in the areas of probate and conveyancing. Currently, CILEx members can conduct many reserved legal activities only under the supervision of an authorised person (as defined under the Legal Services Act 2007, often a solicitor), or satisfy one of the other exemptions.
What would be the benefit of having a firm run by CILEx practitioners?
The CILEx route to qualification ensures CILEx practitioners are specialist lawyers who are trained on the job. A consumer can be confident that a firm of CILEx practitioners is run by specialists in that area of law, and who are authorised particularly for that area, as opposed to a generalist legal firm where your case may be handled by someone unfamiliar with the field.
CILEx also has lengthy experience in providing specialist qualifications for legal practitioners at both honours degree and practitioner level.
In addition, consumers can have confidence in the system of regulation to which CILEx practitioners are subject, and that includes the full range of consumer protection arrangements.
What types of work would such a firm be able to undertake?
Firms run by CILEx practitioners will be able to provide the same range of services as a solicitors’ firm. However, unlike a solicitors’ firm, they will be authorised for their area of specialism, and will not be expected to undertake work in areas where they may not be suitably experienced.
How would the supervisory element of CILEx practitioners be overcome under this model?
CILEx practitioners authorised by IPS – the independent regulator of members of CILEx – are lawyers and do not require supervision for their area of authorisation.
How would the extension of CILEx’s regulatory powers operate in practice?
The legal services market is undergoing significant change at present, and service provision is adapting to meet those challenges. To meet that challenge, and the demands of the market, regulatory arrangements need to reflect this change. IPS’s regulatory model is outcomes-focused and risk-based.
Individual practitioners and businesses would be able to apply for authorisation from IPS in the reserved legal activities of litigation, advocacy, probate, conveyancing and the regulated area of immigration. All CILEx practitioners and entities will be rigorously assessed against the challenging qualification and practice criteria set for their specialism by IPS.
If they meet the requirements they would be able to operate independently in the areas for which they are authorised, and once authorised, firms will be subject to risk-based monitoring and control.
Are there any concerns around this potential development?
The main concern around this potential development is ensuring the public are aware of the changes and the choices they will have in the future.
What could this mean for consumers?
Consumers will have a greater choice over who provides their legal services, and will also have the peace of mind in knowing that their lawyer is a specialist in that area.
In addition, IPS is putting in place the full range of consumer protection arrangements, including establishing a compensation fund and gaining powers to intervene in firms if and when necessary.
Consumers will also be able to provide direct feedback to IPS on the quality of service CILEx practitioners provide through IPS’s consumer-focused website.
By Ian Watson, chief executive officer and head of professional standards at Ilex Professional Standards (IPS) (Interviewed by Jane Crinnion).
The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.
First published on Lexis®PSL.
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