legal services

Report reveals concern over ‘cowboys’ providing unregulated legal services

A new report has revealed both regulated and unregulated legal services providers are concerned over the “cowboys” providing lower quality legal services with lower standards and no regulation.

The report, commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and undertaken by Frontier Economics, The DataCity, and BMG Research, set out to better understand the unregulated legal services market, which currently makes up roughly 6-8% of the total legal market turnover with at least 3,800 providers currently operating – 900 of which being in will writing and estate administration.

Most unregulated services are provided to individuals and small businesses, the SRA said, adding that a quarter of the unregulated providers are concentrated in will and estate administration work followed by family (12%) and employment (11%) work.

It’s said providers of both regulated and unregulated services acknowledged that there were certain “cowboys” or “rogue traders” operating at the time who took advantage of consumers, delivered bad advice, and created a bad reputation for the market as a whole.

It was also suggested that providers agreed some regulation or accountability and requirements should be imposed to minimise the bad operators, although the way forward is unclear.

“Regulating won’t solve everything because the cowboys will find another saloon to ride into,” one respondent said. “There are always going to be bad regulated solicitors, and bad self-regulated will writers,” another added.

Most providers agreed that it would be beneficial to have more aspects of regulation in some areas, especially those providing wills and trusts services. This would likely include training, qualifications, and accountability, although concerns over consistency, increased admin, and costs were common amongst respondents.

What’s more, around half of unregulated providers thought that people do not understand the difference between regulated and unregulated services. 14% said they would become regulated if they had to disclose their regulatory status.

Notably, many of the unregulated providers interviewed were members of professional bodies such as the Institute of Professional Will Writers and Society of Will Writers or a member of another organisation such as STEP.

“As such,” said the report, “many considered themselves to be adhering to certain standards, delivering high-quality advice and services, and being subject to accountability, for example by undertaking continuous professional development as required by the IPW. In some cases firms believed that they worked to the same standards as SRA-regulated firms. These providers expressed concern about disreputable, low-quality providers who had lower standards.”

“Price, quality, levels of protection, and experience can differ greatly from one supplier to the next, whether regulated or unregulated, and what is the right mix for one consumer is not necessarily the right option for the next,” said Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, adding:

“Past research shows that regulated providers are more affordable than many people think, so the real distinction between regulated and unregulated providers is the consumer protection available. Our clickable logo, which the firms we regulate must display, is designed to make that clear.

Helping people to understand what their money is buying – and not buying – when they engage a legal services provider will help them make good decisions about the service that is right for them. That is all the more important as the non-regulated market develops.”

The research involved a web-reading exercise to gather information about the possible number and types of providers of unreserved legal advice, a survey of 510 small business users of legal services, a survey of 162 providers of unreserved activities that are not regulated by the SRA, and engagement with a panel of industry experts. Read the full report.

One Response

  1. As Chair of the IPW I can confidently say that our members do adhere to and operate under very high levels of service through a strict code of practice. Our code is approved by the CTSI and we are the only Willwriters organisation that has this consumer code approval and the consumer protection that this therefore offers. A strict audit each year of our systems and practices by the CTSI ensures that all of our members are offering services to the highest standards and I can report that this audit is passed each year with flying colours. We have strict entry criteria via exam, testing both technical knowledge via a written closed book exam and a practical role play which tests instruction taking and will drafting skills as well as CPD requirements. Our professional indemnity insurance scheme which our members have to have is a minimum of £2 million which is higher than most other organisations and client feedback is monitored by the IPW and regular checks carried out of each member to ensure compliance with the CTSI Code. Our code is regularly reviewed to ensure that it gives maximum protection to the public and we have an independent arbitration service to give clients the opportunity to raise concerns about any members’ service which are therefore not investigated by IPW.
    As a result, compared to other providers of willwriting services, our insurance claim rate is low.
    It should also be remembered that whilst Willwriting is provided by regulated providers, willwriting is NOT a regulated service so is not regulated by anyone as such. However the IPW has been at the forefront for over 30years campaigning for regulation and as such we strive to ensure that our practices are in line with any regulated services.

Read more stories

Join nearly 5,000 other practitioners – sign up to our free newsletter

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.