We interchangeably use many terms to describe legal professionals: lawyers, solicitors, legal advisers, attorneys (an Americanism), a ‘brief’. There are countless others in common usage.
Regrettably, this flexibility with language allows for confusion, and when viewing many legal websites, you would be forgiven for thinking that you are dealing with a qualified legal professional, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
The distinction between a ‘real’ solicitor and anyone else is necessary.
A solicitor is a highly qualified legal professional, regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’) and admitted by the Law Society.
Crucially, there is insurance in place so that if anything does go wrong, there is full protection, and of course, adherence to the highest ethical standards.
When dealing with persons employed and supervised by solicitors, these same protections apply.
Ironically, it is not always the case that unregulated people charge less in fees, so not only is there an inferior service offered, it often comes at a higher price.
The title of “solicitor” is protected under section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974:
“Any unqualified person who wilfully pretends to be, or takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is, qualified or recognised by law as qualified to act as a solicitor shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the fourth level on the standard scale.”
Section 20 of the same Act states:
“No unqualified person is to act as a solicitor.”
An offence under section 20 carries up to 2 years imprisonment, and custodial sentences are the norm, underlying the seriousness of the matter.
Some areas of legal advice are ‘reserved activities’ which means that even if a person does not pretend to be a solicitor, they are prohibited from acting in those matters.
The simple way around this confusion is always to check that you are dealing with a real solicitor.
You can check whether you are dealing with a real firm by using the SRA website, ensure that any site visited is the actual web address for the firm concerned, you should also check the postal address, email and telephone numbers as the copying of real websites is another problem at the moment.
How to check:
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