Key facts about the regulatory regime in England and Wales:
The Legal Services Act 2007
The Legal Services Act (the 'Act') received Royal Assent on 30 October 2007. The Act allows new kinds of legal practices to be developed in which solicitors may join with other kinds of lawyers and non-lawyers to form practices (legal disciplinary practices (LDPs)).
Alternative business structures (ABSs) allow lawyers to go into multidisciplinary practices with other kinds of professionals and allow non-lawyers to own practices which provide legal services. The Act also creates an independent body to deal with consumer complaints and established the LSB.
The Legal Services Board (LSB)
The LSB is the independent body responsible for overseeing legal regulators in England and Wales. It is independent of Government and the legal profession and is the oversight regulator for eight separate bodies, named as 'Approved Regulators' in the Act.
The Board came into being on 1 January 2009 and became fully operational on 1 January 2010. Its overriding mandate is to ensure that regulation in the legal services sector is carried out in the public interest, and that the interests of consumers are placed at the heart of the system. The LSB set up a Consumer Panel, independent from the Board, that advises it on the consumer perspective.
The Law Society
The representative body for solicitors in England and Wales. The Society is also the Approved Regulator but, as the Act requires regulation to be separate from representation, the Society's regulatory functions are delegated to an independent regulatory arm, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The Society lobbies regulators, government and others; offers training and advice; and helps, protects and promotes solicitors across England and Wales. It runs accreditation schemes, provides a practice advice helpline, encourages consumers to use solicitor services through promoting the profession and responds to consultations. The Law Society is committed to ensuring that regulation of the profession is proportionate, properly targeted and sustains its high standards.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
The independent regulatory body of the Law Society, established in 2007. The SRA regulates solicitors and practices, including ABSs. It also regulates Registered European Lawyers (RELs) and Registered Foreign Lawyers (RFLs). The SRA’s purpose is to protect the public by ensuring that solicitors meet high standards and by acting when risks are identified. It deals with all regulatory matters, develops policy, sets its own procedures and makes decisions on individual cases. All solicitors must follow professional Principles and a Code of Conduct.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT)
This is an independent statutory tribunal. Usually, the SRA prosecutes cases before the tribunal but it is possible for members of the public to do so directly.
The Legal Ombudsman (LeO)
Set up by the Office for Legal Complaints under the Act, LeO has been operating since 6 October 2010 and has formal powers to resolve complaints about lawyers. It is open to all members of the public, very small businesses, charities, clubs and trusts. It is independent of government and resolves legal complaints in a fair and independent way.