Legal accreditations and regulation – what does it really mean?
GA Solicitors has just passed its ninth Lexcel audit – securing the use of the Law Society’s accreditation for the ninth consecutive year. To us, it’s a big deal. But how many people know what this means in practice?
Lexcel is the Law Society’s legal practice quality mark for excellence in client care. It marks the firm on seven different areas: structure and strategy, financial management, information management, people management, risk management, client care and file and case management. Undoubtedly a comprehensive test of all elements of both managing a firm and providing a service.
After mentioning this to some friends and family I realised very few knew of the accreditation or of its value. Conversation turned to the non-regulated legal providers in the market – of which there are more than you may realise. Again, the value of being regulated was little known.
As a firm of solicitors, GA is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This means that our professional conduct is constantly under scrutiny and, best of all for clients, there are serious repercussions if things go awry. The SRA’s commitment is to protect the public when instructing a law firm, not the other way around. We must always follow its strict code of conduct, account rules and very detailed handbook in regards to client handling. If these are not followed we could risk suspensions, strike offs, fines and even closure.
The SRA then feeds into the Legal Services Board, an independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales. Sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, its costs are met entirely by a levy on legal practitioners.
So what do you risk by not using a regulated firm?
Qualifications – When becoming a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive (all of which are regulated) there is an extensive amount of training and ongoing development required to obtain and retain this title. Nonregulated positions do not require any such proven knowledge base or qualification which could have a significant impact on the service and advice provided.
Redress – If you have a complaint about a regulated firm it has to have a clear and available complaints procedure in place. There is also the Legal Ombudsman to turn to should things need to go a step further. The potential repercussions of incorrectly undertaken legal work could be substantial so having these levels of redress could be invaluable.
Insufficient insurance – All regulated providers are required to have a sufficient level of indemnity insurance whereas unregulated providers may have insufficient insurance or none at all. If mistakes are made, particularly in regards to divorce, property or even wills, the cost to the client could be substantial. You need to know that you can recoup those costs and not be left out of pocket
Hidden charges – As part of its regulation GA must provide very clear pricing structures and have all fees agreed before they are incurred. For this reason, unregulated providers can often appear cheaper when initially requesting quotes however as work progresses, hidden costs can suddenly become apparent, making the job much more costly after all.
SRA compensation fund – The SRA runs a compensation fund to help people who have lost money as a result of a solicitor’s dishonesty or failure to account for money received. This is just another safety net to ensure your money is protected
How do you know if a firm is regulated?
Unfortunately, this isn’t always clear, especially if a non-regulated individual calls themselves a lawyer, which isn’t a protected title. However regulated firms will, quite simply, tell you.
Within the footer of GA’s website, it details that it is regulated and provides its SRA number. This statement is also included on most of our promotional literature, email signatures and letters.
However, if you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to ask. Those few words could save you a lot of stress and worry in the longer term.
Katy McKenna, marketing manager