Solicitors Regulation Authority: Looking to the Future-flexibility and public protection
Legal services (such as advice on the legal aspects of tax and company law, and work on probate and succession) has for many years comprised a significant element of accountancy work.
Other work (“the reserved activities”) remains restricted to solicitors, barristers or other appropriately authorised individuals and entities, under the Legal Services Act 2007 (the ‘Act’). The Act also provided for considerable liberalisation of the market for legal services , and additional liberalisation is being encouraged by the Legal Services Board, including by the reduction of unnecessary restrictions and costs imposed through the rules of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Members in practice can take advantage of the reforms by:
- taking out an accreditation as a probate firm;
- taking solicitors or other authorised legal services providers into partnership, as a Multi-Disciplinary Partnership (MDP); or
- taking ownership of, or an ownership interest in, a law firm.
The second and third of these options are described under the Act as “Alternative Business Structures” (ABS). This term is widely used in the legal services market, to describe firms providing reserved services other than traditional law firms.
Guidance ‘Accountants and Legal Services’ for Members in practice on the provision of legal services to their clients, directly or in conjunction with a law firm, and the legal and regulatory conditions which may apply is available here. All previous guidance entitled ‘Accountants and Legal Services’ has now been withdrawn with immediate effect.
Members working in business, commerce, the public or third sector, may also be affected as the reforms change the way in which organisations can access legal services.
International accountants may be interested in following the reforms in the UK, to inform their ideas on ways in which the provision of professional services could be liberalised (or indeed restricted). There are restrictions surrounding the services given by the legal profession in many countries, though these tend to vary widely.
Probate and ABS
In August 2014 ICAEW was approved as a regulator of (non-contentious) probate services and as a licensing authority for Alternative Business Structures (ABS). This means that, subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions, members can apply to be authorised or licensed by ICAEW as a probate practitioner. For full details of the application process see here. Regulatory Advice on when a member or member firm needs to apply for accreditation as an ICAEW probate practitioner is available here.
ICAEW also applied to be approved as a regulator of all the reserved services, but restricted to services relating to tax, in July 2016. More information on our application is available here.
Legal Privilege and Money Laundering Suspicion Reports
The clients of accountants do not normally benefit from legal advice privilege, though there may be some protection for their confidential information through litigation privilege, where accountants act together with a solicitor or barrister. The exception to this is in relation to advice given by, or under the supervision of, an individual with a personal authorisation for the reserved service of probate, and where the advice is related to probate matters. For more information on this, see our Guidance on Accountants and Legal Services.
Money Laundering suspicious activity reports (SARs) should not be made, in any circumstances, where money laundering suspicions were formed from information that came in the course of providing legal advice or litigation services. Guidance on the "The Privilege Reporting Exemption" is available from the Regulations, standards and guidance Section "Anti-money laundering guidance for the accountancy sector"
ICAEW is active in making representations to Government and other regulatory authorities, both formally and informally. Representations aim to increase the extent and flexibility with which member firms can provide legal services to clients, without damaging the reputation of the profession. Recent formal representations are listed below.
Competition and Markets Authority: Legal Services Market Study - Interim Report
Ministry of Justice: Proposals to make amendments to the Legal Services Act 2007
Ministry of Justice: Legal services removing barriers to competition
Legal Services Board: For consultation, Draft Business Plan 2016/17
Competition and Markets Authority: The supply of legal services in England and Wales
Competition and Markets Authority: The Supply of Legal Services in England and Wales
Solicitors Regulatory Authority: Regulatory Reform Programme - Improving Regulation: proportionate and targeted measures
Legal Services Board: Are Regulatory Restrictions in Practising Rules for In-house Lawyers Justified?
Legal Services Board: Draft: Strategic Plan 2015-18 and Business Plan 2015/16