We have decided to write a short article about unregulated legal service providers and hopefully get some understanding out there about what regulation means and what it can mean if you use an unregulated firm or person.
Firstly you should know that some legal services are called "reserved legal activities". This means they can only be provided through a firm which is regulated by an overarching body given such powers in law. For instance the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), CILEx Regulation and The Council for Licenced Conveyancers are three main regulators of legal firms.
If a firm is not regulated they cannot provide reserved legal activities. Not all legal services are reserved legal activities but the main ones are. Some of these main ones are matrimonial work, litigation, probate work, conveyancing, commercial work, and personal injury work to name but a few. If you are being offered these services by an unregulated person or firm, that person or firm is breaking the law.
Notably, Will writing and making Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) are not classed as reserved legal activities. So what does this mean? Well basically anyone can do this work even if they are not qualified. So if you were minded to, you could buy a book on Wills, read it and then call yourself a Will writer. You could offer Will writing and LPA writing services and you would not need a regulator looking over your shoulder making sure you are doing things right. You would not be breaking the law if you carried out this work and were not regulated.
Worse still, if you are not regulated, you are not required to carry indemnity insurance. All regulated firms must carry minimum indemnity insurance of £2,000,000.00 to cover their clients if a mistake is made.
In addition, a regulated firm has to have an accountants audit every year to make sure they are not misusing their clients money and that they are meeting their regulators accounting standards. An unregulated firm or person does not have to do this - which means they can mix your money with theirs and in some cases make a real mess of everything (we have seen this happen), with no come back on them.
Many unregulated Will writing firms see Will writing as a great opportunity to make money from vulnerable people by selling them schemes to protect their assets from care fees and Inheritance tax, which frankly do not work. Such firms charge extortionate fees (we have seen one company charging £4,295 plus VAT) for two Wills with trusts and four LPA's. Regulated firms simply would not charge this sum and in addition would never try to sell you something which they know does not work.
So before you attend one of these firms seminars that they offer, or read their glossy and expensive brochures, do a little research and find out if they are a regulated firm and by regulated we mean by one of the above 3 bodies. Its easy - go to the regulator and search for the firm in the regulators directory. It simply is not good enough for someone to say they are a member of the Institute of Professional Will Writers, or a member of the Society of Will Writers, as honestly you do not need to pass any exams set out by these bodies to become a member and they do not have power to regulate firms for reserved legal activities.
Grossly expensive does not mean it is better or works, and conversely inappropriately cheap does not mean it is better either. Will writing is a skill and it takes 4 years of training to fully understand its integration into Succession law, Land law and Trusts and Equity, before you should even consider writing a Will for someone. Anything else means you are just messing with peoples lives and the lives of their beneficiaries.
So remember - keep it professional and keep it regulated.
See our regulation details here: