With Lawyers in Local Government calling for clarification of who local authority solicitors can act for, Crispin Passmore sets out the Solicitors Regulation Authority's view.
The term “public or a section of the public” is not defined in Section 15 of the Legal Services Act 2007, and a solution to this issue is ultimately a matter for the courts to debate and decide.
So up to now, our interpretation of the Act and how we regulate local government solicitors has been clear. The Act is designed to safeguard the protection of consumers of legal services, and who and what is authorised to deliver legal services must be considered in this context. It requires local authorities to be authorised if its employees are providing reserved legal services to the public, or a section of the public, as part of their employer's business.
The key question is therefore not about the characteristics of the client (whether an individual or an organisation, or whether within the public or private sector for example), but whether or not the services provided by local government solicitors are to their employer or a person (individual or organisation) connected to their employer.
In some situations this will be obvious, for example where the “person” is a holding, associated or subsidiary company. In other situations, this question will not always be easy to answer, but will depend on there being a clear and specific relationship between your client and your employer.
We intend to publish a decision tree to support local government solicitors and remove the complexity and uncertainty in determining whether their employer needs to be authorised under the LSA or not.
We have already introduced measures to make it easier for local authorities to deliver their business models. But we know we need to do more. Our Looking to the Future proposals are designed to introduce greater freedom and flexibility for local authorities to organise their business in ways that suit them.
They will remove unnecessary restrictions we place on delivering non-reserved legal services to the public, and clarify our position on the delivery of pro bono services. A shorter, simpler code that is easier to understand and that applies more directly to in-house practice will also help. We will provide resources for in-house solicitors to help them understand and apply our new approach.
But you don’t need to wait until these changes are made to explore new ways of working. We know that many local authorities are already thinking about different ways they can deliver their services. We have set up SRA Innovate to provide online guidance and support to all solicitors and their employers who are looking at new ways to serve their clients and run their businesses.
My advice to local government solicitors and their employers thinking about developing their service is, get in touch and let's talk about how we can try and make your ideas work. Our starting point is an instinct to say 'yes' to new, creative ideas, subject to them being lawful under the LSA.
Crispin Passmore is SRA Executive Director, Policy.