Once upon a time getting legal advice was a very simple thing to do. You simply found a local solicitor and went to see them. A good number of local solicitors would be registered for Legal Aid work, so if your cases were within the criteria and the solicitor judged that it was a valid matter, you could get free or assisted legal advice. If it was not, then you could still use the solicitor, but you had to pay an hourly rate.
Most solicitors turn their hands at just about everything, whether that be conveyancing, drafting a will, providing assistance with divorce, dealing with a partnership agreement, reviewing a commercial contract, and everything else besides. To a certain extent for a good number of solicitors, this was probably a very good existence, because there was quite often some variety in their work, they could genuinely say that in a lot of cases they were making a real difference, and there was little pressure on most solicitors to generate large amounts of income. Unfortunately for some, but inevitably for others, solicitors and the legal profession decided that things needed modernising, and competition needed to take place to keep down the cost and drive up productivity and choice for consumers.
Over time quite a few things changed that have meant that the legal profession in the UK is not necessarily the place you go to for legal advice, or at least the regulated legal profession in the UK is not necessarily the first place of choice that you would go to to get information and advice with a matter you have.
Due to the reduction in the amount of Legal Aid available for most areas of law, and in fact for the vast majority no longer available at all, most solicitors now only do private work.
This means that for a good proportion of legal work, the costs involved make the benefit of speaking to a solicitor much harder to justify for most people, and as a result alternative forms of obtaining legal advice have sprung up.
One of these is charities, which appear to have taken over responsibility for providing assistance and advice to the poorest sections of community. The other is the use of claims management companies, and the final one, which is the focus of this article, is the use of non-regulated law firms and legal advice.
Non-regulated legal advice
You may not realise this, but there are a large number of areas of law that you can get advice and assistance with that do not require the services of a regulated and qualified solicitor (or barrister. This list is fairly extensive, but includes things like commercial contract advice for companies, drafting a will for individuals, providing assistance with the completion of an application for divorce. These can all be dealt with by non-regulated lawyers, or perhaps more accurately, less regulated lawyers.
This is because solicitors and barristers are only required in cases where an individual requires someone to represent them in court, or to carry out particular official functions such as purchasing a house or going through probate. Even then, there are other regulated bodies that can assist, although the vast majority of regulated providers of legal advice tend to cost the same sort of money.
Why non-regulated lawyers are cheaper (other than will writers)
Non-regulated providers can undertake vast amounts of work, and do so at a much lower cost than solicitors, simply because they are not regulated, and in most cases you will not have any comeback if the advice or assistance you receive is negligent.
This is because non-regulated advisers, who tend to specialise in commercial and corporate work, tend not to carry the same level of professional indemnity insurance cover that regulated lawyers do. There is good reason for this, and that is that if you are an in-house lawyer or a non-regulated lawyer, you tend to be working quite specifically for one particular client, and that client has to take into account the fact they’re paying a lot less for you than if they were to use a regulated firm of solicitors.
Quite often non-regulated lawyers tend to be at exactly the same sort of skill level as regulated lawyers, with the only difference being that if anything does go wrong and their advice or work is faulty, then you don’t have any comeback to obtain compensation from them. Some non-regulated bodies do carry professional indemnity insurance, and you do have the opportunity to seek compensation for faults, but this is the very nature of the competition introduced some years ago to open up the legal market. Essentially, if you have legal work that is non-contentious (i.e. does not involve a court case or some sort of dispute), or involves the completion of official documents such as a conveyancing transaction or probate, then you don’t need to pay a solicitor a high hourly rate to undertake the work for you, as there are cheaper options that are just as effective. If you want to take a look online at the sort of cost non-regulated solicitors charge for non-regulated work, you need to be looking for legal consultants, law consultants, non-regulated lawyers, and law businesses or legal businesses. You will not find them by looking for solicitors firms.
Quite a lot are new businesses, and they may also have an SRA regulated arm to them providing assistance with regulated work.
Jonathan Fagan is a director of the Interim Lawyers platform for business advice and local assistance for SMEs and law firms. For full details of the service provided by Interim Lawyers, please visit www.interimlawyers.co.uk.
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