The regulatory structure for lawyers

The regulatory structure for lawyers in England and Wales is complex and governed by the Legal Services Act 2007.  Its basics are as follows.

What work is regulated?

It’s not generally known but there are relatively few areas of law where you must be a regulated lawyer in order to undertake them.  They are:

  • acting as an advocate in court (but not a tribunal)
  • conducting litigation (essentially acting on behalf of someone bringing a case to court)
  • conveyancing (described as “reserved instrument transactions” in the Act)
  • applying for probate
  • administering oaths.

In order to undertaken this work, you have been granted the right to undertake that work by an approved regulator.

If you are not regulated by an approved regulator and you provide immigration advice and assistance, you must be registered with the Office of Immigration Services Commissioner.

If you work as a claims manager (e.g. on personal injury claims or other actions for compensation) and are not regulated by an approved regulator  then you must be registered with the Claims Management Regulator.

Approved regulators

The approved regulators are set out in the Legal Services Act.  Some of these bodies have a representative role and, in those cases, they are required to ensure that their regulatory decisions are taken, so far as practicable, separately from their representational work.  Most have created separate regulatory arms to undertake their regulatory work all of which have strong independent profiles.   They are:

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland have rights to authorise activities, but do not do so.

The work of the approved regulators

The approved regulators broadly undertake the following functions:

  • establishing the education and training requirements to enable someone to gain authorisation or the checks on corporate entities to check that they are suitable to be authorised;
  • setting the rules of conduct and ethical standards;
  • supervising and monitoring compliance;
  • taking action for non-compliance, including prosecution in front of disciplinary tribunals.

Their work generally covers all aspects of the authorised individuals’ practices, whether or not they are undertaking reserved work – though this does not completely apply to SRA regulated individuals if they are taking advantage of recent changes to the Separate Business Rule or are also regulated by a body such as the ICAEW.

The Legal Services Board

The Legal Services Board supervises the work of the approved regulators.  Broadly, it:

  • approves changes to the rules;
  • recommends new bodies who wish to become approved regulators to the Lord Chancellor;
  • recommends whether activities should be reserved;
  • supports the work of the Legal Services Consumer Panel;
  • undertakes research to support its general remit to oversee the market for legal services;
  • appoints and oversees the work of the Legal Ombudsman.

The Board is appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

Legal Ombudsman

The Legal Ombudsman deals with complaints of poor service against people who are authorised by the approved regulators and those who are regulated by the Claims Management Regulator.

Disciplinary arrangements

Each of the approved regulators have slightly different arrangements for prosecuting disciplinary matters against lawyers.

The SRA prosecutes solicitors before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

The BSB prosecutes barristers in front of a Disciplinary Tribunal of the Council of the Inns of Court, administered by the Bar Tribunals and Adjudications Service.

The others have internal disciplinary committees or tribunals charged with taking action.