As the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) applies for approval to act as a regulator and licencing authority for reserved legal activities, lawyers are questioning whether accountants have the relevant training to offer these services.
The ICAEW is already approved as a regulator and licencing authority for probate. It’s now seeking the same approval from the Legal Services Board for the remaining five reserved legal activities, including the exercise of a right of audience in court and the conduct of litigation.
Speaking about the likely impact the change would have, Thomas Spencer, a solicitor at London firm Mackrell Turner Garrett, said: “This may mean that we will see a number of accountancy firms entering the legal market and the move could allow accountants to claim legal professional privilege in their tax work – a privilege the profession has long desired.”
While the ICAEW says these new powers would be restricted to activities around taxation, the Law Society and others have expressed concern that in practice accountants will be able to act in areas where they are not equipped with the relevant training.
Kam Bhamera, a solicitor also at Mackrell Turner Garrett, said: “At present, there is not enough information available about the level of training that accountants applying to undertake reserved legal activities will have to take.”
However, she recognised the possible benefit to those seeking legal services, saying: “From the consumer perspective, it is arguable that the increased competition will be in the public interest as it may reduce fees due to services being provided in one place.”
The ICAEW announced its intention in February to make an application to the Legal Services Board and has held a public consultation on the proposal.