Let your voice be heard
CILEX president, Emma Davies considers the reform agenda outlined in CILEX’s Enhancing Consumer Trust & Confidence consultation and gives her view on what it means for members
I am passionate about CILEX and, for the many years before I became involved at board level, I personally made it my business to advocate for the organisation and its members. I have been a CILEX member for approaching 20 years and would certainly not endorse anything that I felt would undermine our distinct identity as specialist legal professionals or our distinct qualification routes. These are sentiments that I know are echoed by my Professional Board colleagues.
I take this opportunity to reflect on all three sections of the current consultation which outlines reforms to our governance, membership structure and regulatory delegation, changes which I believe will not only maintain our distinct identity but will enhance it for the CILEX Lawyers and paralegals following in our footsteps.
Governance and constitution
If we are to promote equality of opportunity and challenge the legal sector to become more diverse and inclusive, we need to practise what we preach and ensure our own governance and constitution provides equal opportunity for all CILEX members. By affording all members voting rights and the opportunity to join the Professional Board, we will ensure that our decisions are informed by the voices of all of our members, no matter what stage they are at in their careers.
Recognition as chartered professionals
Too often I hear that consumers are confused by the title Chartered Legal Executive – and not just consumers, but professionals within and outside the legal profession. Tell somebody you are a ‘lawyer’ and there is an immediate recognition of your role. Explicit reference to us being Chartered emphasises that we are trained and regulated to high standards, a term that is positively associated with other professions such as accountants and surveyors. Using Chartered Lawyer as a title is a great opportunity to end that confusion and the necessity to explain our roles and qualification.
Similarly, the proposed simplified membership grade framework provides an opportunity for consumers, the legal profession and wider professions to fully understand that we are home to two distinct, but equally important, branches of the legal profession, each with their own Chartered title to reflect the robust route to qualification and rigorous ongoing regulatory requirements.
For CILEX members and aspiring legal professionals, it provides a clear framework for career progression with the flexibility to change direction or slow down for when life happens, as I know all too well!
As a healthcare regulatory lawyer for over 13 years, this section of the consultation is of particular interest to me.
My initial concern was the possibility that we would lose our distinct identity and our distinct qualification routes, something I would not be prepared to compromise on. As a Professional Board, we spent many meetings airing our concerns and views, and are reassured by the SRA’s proposals that our ‘red lines’ will not be crossed. These are highlighted at pages 4 and 11 of the consultation document. We will retain our CILEX titles, branding, specialist qualification and practise rights. The governance maintained through CILEX in its retained capacity as the Approved Regulator and the oversight provided by the Legal Services Board Internal Governance Rules will ensure the SRA cannot favour, promote or be influenced by any profession over the other.
I believe the SRA maintaining both the Register of authorised CILEX Lawyers and the Solicitors Register, published in one place with the information displayed in a way that will allow employers and consumers to understand where parity and equivalence exists in our practising certificates and authorisation relevant to our area of practice, is key to enhancing the status of CILEX Lawyers.
By increasing transparency as to our status as specialist lawyers, establishing the ability to search for and compare solicitors and CILEX Lawyers side by side, and publicly acknowledging that, regardless of the difference in our routes to qualifications, CILEX Lawyers and solicitors are an equally competent and valid choice, is a huge step forward in our push for parity.
Alignment of the standards contained within our codes of conduct, practice guidance, consumer protection schemes and the processes used to hold us to account (CPD, investigation and enforcement) will both simplify the regulatory landscape and ensure clients can be confident that the same high standards and cover apply regardless of which lawyer services their need. There will no longer be any excuse for employers to differentiate in pay, promotions or charge out rates between solicitors and CILEX Lawyers.
This is of significant importance to me as I focus my presidential year on raising the profile of CILEX members within the workplace and changing the culture where they are not treated with equity.
Obtaining practice rights for Chartered Legal Executives is a contentious issue voiced at every CILEX roadshow. There is a commitment from the SRA to review how Chartered Legal Executives obtain their practice rights, which is currently a barrier to many due to the cost and time required under CILEx Regulation’s (CRL) current provisions. I am therefore optimistic that this will be much improved under the SRA.
The consultation paper also makes reference to economies of scale. At £367 for Fellows, our practising certificate fee is currently significantly higher than that of our solicitor colleagues (£306), another potential barrier for CILEX members. The SRA proposal has identified areas for increased efficiencies and has more ability to respond to the increasing demands on regulators in respect of financial crime, anti-money laundering provisions, EDI and increased consumer engagement without significant cost increases. Conversely, CRL has limited ability to meet those same requirements with only 20 staff, limited growth in the number of practitioners and entities it regulates and a lack of alternative income streams. It currently relies on CILEX to underwrite its Consumer Compensation Fund and the majority of its reserves were funded through donation by CILEX out of the income received from our non-regulatory activities.
As a result of the proposals, CILEX Lawyers could benefit from increased awareness of the role and capabilities of CILEX Lawyers, improved consumer protections and less risk of a rise in practising certificate fees.
For CILEX entities, they will enjoy the same benefits as existing SRA-regulated firms in the form of access to lender panels, approved provider lists, insurance, referral contracts, regulatory quality marks and the compensation fund, whilst still retaining their distinct CILEX identity as a new category of SRA-regulated CILEX firm. This protects against any need or requirement for involvement of a solicitor in the firm’s governance and management, it will be able to be wholly CILEX managed and owned This will preserve competition in the market, enabling more CILEX Lawyers in the future to set up their own firms without experiencing any of the previous barriers or discrimination arising from not being SRA regulated.
As a result of my work within healthcare regulation, I have seen firsthand how inconsistent approaches across regulators can result in different outcomes for different practitioners, and in some cases the loss of highly skilled practitioners, which in turn is a huge loss to the public. The consultation document sets out how “SRA regulation should also establish consistent CPD requirements for those who hold a practising certificate and apply a fair, transparent and consistent approach to investigating complaints and enforcement action across all those it regulates.”
Innovative, agile and progressive
We have been seeking parity with our solicitor colleagues for many years. Most of you will be familiar with the huge progress we’ve made to remove unnecessary legislative and policy barriers for our members. I appreciate change is unnerving when it is easier to retain the status quo but CILEX prides itself on being an “innovative, agile and progressive Chartered Body”, an institute that is not going anywhere and seeks to grow its membership.
The legal profession is watching us so let’s show them, and other regulated professions, that when we identify a case for change we respond to the evidence and take action. A huge amount of analysis and due diligence has been undertaken to get this far and this work has been independently reviewed by a former CEO of the Legal Services Board, Chris Kenny. This includes understanding the barriers our members face, where regulation can be improved to address the issues identified and improve the trust, confidence and understanding of both consumers and legal services providers.
I urge you to read the consultation document in full before submitting your response. There has never been a more important time to let your voice be heard.