‘He advertised as a lawyer. He had a website that said he was working in a law firm. I went to his offices. They were fancy. He was well dressed…but it turns out his law firm was not real, and he was a con man and not a lawyer at all…He took money on account and disappeared’.
How do you know that your lawyer is really a lawyer, and a law firm is really a law firm?
How do you know what your supposed solicitor looks like?
First, a short rambunctious Rosen rant:
Here we have a flaw in the SRA system. There are no photographic IDs. There is nothing on the website to show a likeness of the solicitor, which means that anyone could pose as a solicitor by taking the details and pretending to be someone else…which is of course illegal and a criminal offence.
I would welcome to see identification cards issued by the SRA showing photographic identification which would give the consumers and general public additional confidence and comfort that they are dealing with the person they believe they are dealing with, and not a bogus lawyer.
What is a solicitor?
A solicitor is someone who is authorised by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (‘the SRA’), a solicitor’s regulatory body, to conduct reserved legal activities. It means that the individual solicitor will have a valid Practicing Certificate, together with appropriate indemnity insurance cover.
Unless a lawyer has been admitted onto the roll of solicitors, and holds a valid current practicing certificate, and the appropriate indemnity insurance cover, that lawyer is not entitled to practice a reserved legal activity in England and Wales.
Where can I look up to see whether my lawyer is a solicitor?
You can look up whether someone is on the roll of solicitors: Find a Solicitor – The Law Society
You can look up whether a solicitor is entitled to practice, through the SRA website: SRA | Person details | Solicitors Regulation Authority
A solicitor will hold a unique roll number, and it will be different to a law firm, which holds its own number. A search of my name will show when I was admitted onto the roll of solicitors, and where I practice. You will see a green tick that the individual is an SRA-regulated solicitor. The SRA number will also be shown. In my case it is 40501.
Here is an example of a search for an organisation: Offices of DAVID ROSEN & CO – The Law Society and at the SRA: SRA | Organisation details | Solicitors Regulation Authority You will see a green tick that the firm is an SRA regulated firm with a unique SRA number, in my firm’s case 669946.
On my website, and on all law firm websites, there should be a grey shield with an upwards red arrow. Clicking on this should take you to the SRA website, where you can check that the law firm is verified. The SRA will confirm in that website verification that the firm and the solicitors who work for it must follow and will take action if rules are broken, which means that everyone who works for the firm must meet the high standards set. The firm must have the right level of insurance to protect you in case something goes wrong, and that a consumer may be able to claim through its compensation fund to have their money reimbursed if the firm or a solicitor working for it loses your money.
You can complain to the SRA if you are concerned about the behaviour of the firm. You can also make complaint to the Legal Ombudsman who may be able to help resolve an issue.
What is a reserved legal activity?
There are six specific legal services activities that only those who are authorised, or hold exemptions, can carry on: This is set out at Section 12 of the Legal Services Act 2007. The scope of those activities is set out in Schedule 2 of the 2007 Act. Legal Services Act 2007 (legislation.gov.uk)
- Exercise of a right of audience.
- The conduct of litigation.
- Reserved instrument activities.
- Probate activities.
- Notarial activities.
- Administration of oaths.
There are exceptions to these activities being carried out by others, a short answer of which is contained in frequently asked questions of the Legal Services Board. Reserved legal activities – The Legal Services Board.
There are also other regulated bodies under which for example those practising immigration law can practice, the Office of the immigration Services Commissioner Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
A legal executive may also conduct reserved legal activities and they are governed under a different body, CILEx, an authorised lawyer. What is a Chartered Legal Executive? – CILEx Regulation They hold their own search for an authorised lawyer Find a Lawyer (Chartered Legal Executive / CILEx Practitioner) – CILEx Regulation
What to do if a solicitor is not really a solicitor, and a law firm is not really a law firm?
The SRA have powers to prosecute those offenders because to pretend to be a solicitor: ‘A bogus solicitor’, is a criminal offence. Here is a link to the SRA page about Bogus solicitors: SRA | Bogus solicitors | Solicitors Regulation Authority and where to report someone misusing a genuine solicitor’s identity.
Wouldn’t it be helpful though if there were SRA verified digital/photographic identities? Solicitors are required to examine documents of identity for anti-money laundering regulation purposes of potential new clients.
Why are solicitors not required to show valid and verified photographic ID to potential clients? We would expect Police to identify themselves with photographic ID. Why not with solicitors as well?
Professor David Rosen is a solicitor-advocate with 23 years’ of experience in commercial litigation. He is principal of David Rosen & Co, a certified fraud examiner, and a full academic Professor of Professional Practice at Brunel University where he continues to lecture regularly. David is considered a master-strategist and is a member of the Royal United Services Institute, and the Society of Legal Scholars amongst others.