There are a number of ways to check whether a solicitor is who they say they are. Firstly, every solicitor in England and Wales has to have a practising certificate if they are dealing with the general public or, if they are working for a company in house or a local authority, they have to be at least registered with The Law Society as “non-practising”.
It is a criminal offence in England and Wales to describe yourself as a solicitor if you are not qualified and, in the case of acting for the general public, holding a practising certificate.
If you are a solicitor and you are not advising the general public you need to describe yourself as a solicitor (non-practising).
So the difference between a practising solicitor and a non-practising solicitor is that the practising solicitor will hold a practise certificate from The Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority indicating that they are licensed to practise law during that particular practise year.
Practise years for solicitors run from November through till October, and then a new certificate is required.
However, solicitors can work in some cases without a practising certificate, if they are undertaking what is known as “non-regulated work”. Non-regulated work is work that is not reserved solely to solicitors and can be conducted by non-qualified lawyers or fee earners as well as qualified solicitors.
For example, appearing before the magistrates in the magistrates’ court to represent a client or other person requires a practising certificate. Assisting someone in the small claims track in the county court as what is known as a “McKenzie friend”, does not require a practising certificate. Similarly, drafting a will does not require a solicitor with a practising certificate, but to handle the probate on behalf of someone else does require a practising certificate if you are a solicitor (other types of regulated lawyers can conduct some of the regulated activity).
It has become an almighty mess in terms of defining who is genuine and who is not genuine, because the government were, many years ago, completely obsessed with deregulating the legal industry, and as a result there are lots of different regulatory bodies and types of lawyers, and so it is hard to know who is actually entitled to undertake the work you are seeking done, and who are scammers.
For example, immigration solicitors can be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but immigration practitioners can be regulated by something completely different and hold a completely different set of qualifications.
The easiest way to make sure that your lawyer is genuine is to use a solicitors’ firm to undertake the work, and search The Law Society website to make sure that they are regulated, and also that the person dealing with your case is a qualified solicitor and holding a practising certificate.
If you are ever in doubt as to whether your solicitor is genuine, the quickest and simplest way to check them out is to search the ‘find a solicitor service’ on The Law Society website and make sure that they hold a practising certificate, and if there is any doubt ring the Solicitors Regulation Authority and ask them to confirm that a particular individual holds a current practising certificate.
This does not of course hinder scammers who are masquerading as solicitors by using their personal details, but you should be able to match a few things up with solicitors to make sure that they are genuine, including their firm’s telephone number, email address, website and postal address, and compare this with the information you are presented by a solicitor.
It is completely different working with the other regulatory bodies such as the Institute of Legal Executives or the Council of Licensed Conveyancers where it is not so simple to identify genuine lawyers from those pretending to be legal executives and licensed conveyancers, because the directories online for both those organisations are not so easy to search, and a number of legal executives work without current practising certificates because it does not seem to be as important as a good number of legal executives do not sufficiently high level work for firms to bother renewing practising certificates.
Jonathan Fagan is MD of Ten-Percent.co.uk Limited and TP Recruitment Limited, a set of websites involved in a range of recruitment work. Jonathan has been running small businesses for over 20 years and has a number of interests and investments in companies as diverse as transcription, legal recruitment and a bit of marketing. He is an author of a number of guides and books, together with a children’s novel. In his spare time he enjoys playing golf, cricket, coaching girls’ football, operating a parent taxi, lots of running and paddleboarding on Bala Lake and the River Dee. He is a strong believer in a good work-life balance and regular blogs on making money vs enjoying life. Jonathan’s website is https://www.jonathanfagan.co.uk