Lawyers and accountants: one and the same?

You are just about to finish brunch with your accountant, having discussed about how to manage your business finances. But rather than standing up and giving you a firm handshake and bidding you farewell, he or she proceeds to ask you whether you would like to commence writing your will too.

However odd that may seem, it may well soon become a reality.

The Legal Services Board (LSB) seems to support the concept of loosening lawyers’ hold on legal services. Their opinion is that the accountancy industry should have the power to carry out some of the legal activities traditionally preserved for lawyers only.

The LSB chairman David Edmonds has advocated such a change to the Justice Secretary himself, by recommending the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) be allowed to licence probate work. His argument being that to allow accountants to participate in legal practice would be "a very considerable step for liberalisation in the legal services market." He went on to say he looked forward to seeing the ICAEW "regulating litigation and other legal services”. In essence, he sees this as only the beginning…

The LSB’s decision comes two years after legislation was introduced to open the legal services market. Reform of the legal services market dates back to 2004, when a government report found that competition did not exist in the legal sector.

Some of the "Big Four" accountancy firms have expressed their interest in carrying out certain legal services for their clients.

Vernon Soare, executive director of the accountants' institute, said: "The Legal Services Board has recognised that consumers can receive legal services from appropriately regulated ICAEW chartered accountants that are of equal quality to traditional providers."

Under the new arrangements, firms will be able to apply to the ICAEW for authority to deliver "non-contentious" probate services as accredited probate firms. The ICAEW will be permitted to license practitioners to apply for grant of probate or letters of administration.

A grant of probate gives an individual the legal right to deal with the assets of a dead person and is essential for executors of wills. This is just the type of work lawyers have traditionally kept for themselves.

But the Law Society, the professional body representing solicitors, has strongly objected to the ICAEW's application to license legal services, arguing that it will diminish professional standards that are typically associated with lawyers.

The ICAEW intends to begin issuing licences in the spring 2014.

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