How the group is formed
(a) The Solicitors Sole Practitioners Group became a group of the Law Society in 1993. It is now an Independent Stakeholder Group. Its current membership is now approximately 5000 made up of a combination of ‘traditional’ sole practitioners and solicitors working on their own through a limited company. Membership is very diverse, ranging from the sole practitioner working from home or in an office with no staff, to the sole practitioner with more than one office and several assistants. The range of work covers the very specialist niche practice to the more general high street practice. In addition, this sector of the profession includes members whose main source of income may come from locum work and those who have a very small practice earning less than £15,000 gross fees per year to those with very much more substantial incomes.
(b) The Group has a National Executive Committee comprising representatives from regional areas in England and Wales. However, one of the main aims of the Executive is to encourage the formation of local groups as this is seen as the best means of providing sole practitioners with mutual support and giving them opportunities to network amongst local practitioners. The Group provides financial support to new local groups.
(c) The Executive has a number of Sub-Committees:
The Practice Sub-Committee is concerned with professional regulation, specialist accreditation, practice management, conveyancing, legal aid and other practice areas;
the Marketing Sub-Committee is responsible for the Group’s relationship with third parties such as commercial sponsors, conference exhibitors and advertisers who wish to promote their services and products to the membership, often ensuring that sole practitioners receive specially negotiated discounts. The sub-committee is also responsible for the Group’s overall strategy for communication and delivery of services and benefits to our members.
The Professional Indemnity Insurance Sub-Committee is responsible for the Group’s arrangements with Willis and supporting members in difficulty or with concerns surrounding insurance renewals and claims.
The SRA Liaison Committee is responsible for a consistent and regular dialogue with the SRA, to ensure that our Regulator is listening to sole practitioners.
(d) The Executive meets four times a year and the Officers of the Executive Committee have a telephone conference meeting every month.
(e) The Group was formed originally as an informal group within The Law Society. In about 2002 The Law Society decided that such informal groups had to be formally recognised by an official agreement with The Law Society and that agreement was in place until March 2013. Following The Law Society’s review of its functions, having devolved regulation to the SRA, it felt it had to communicate more directly with small firms and set up a small firms division which it invited the Group to merge into. After much thought and discussion it was felt that the Group was providing a useful independent service dedicated to sole practitioners and should retain its independence given that it was able to remain financially independent of The Law Society’s grant. As at January 2015, the Group has consolidated its independent position and is looking forward to cooperating with The Law Society and the small firms division where possible in the interests of its sole practitioner members and the profession as a whole.
(a) Local groups arrange talks, social events, and other means by which sole practitioners can meet each other and normally use the opportunity to gain CPD accreditation. The Group also encourages sole practitioners to meet informally without a structured event as this give practitioners the opportunity to exchange experiences, particularly about the management of their practices and provide valuable social contact.
(b) The Group has organised Annual Conferences for the past 19 years which have become increasingly successful. These are held in various locastions in the UK and in 2013, it was even held in Paris. Conferences also comprise the Group’s Annual Gala Dinner and Annual General Meeting and an opportunity to hear from speakers including members of The Law Society, SRA and Legal Ombudsman, in addition to lectures on conventional black letter law and business growth. Increasingly, sole practitioners see the conference as a valuable event because it is devoted solely to their needs and provides CPD points at reasonable cost.
(c) The Group also organises regular regional seminars, to supplement and compliment the Annual Conference, at locations aimed to assist busy sole practitioners who may find it difficult to leave their office for a whole day to attend a seminar.
(d) The Group has published Solo, a Journal and Newsletter, since 1996 and, again, sole practitioners are increasingly seeing the value of a journal, which unlike other legal journals, is focussed on their interests. SOLO is effective in creating a sense of community amongst sole practitioners, who more than other practitioners can feel particularly isolated.
(e) The Group has its own Website where members can find details of all the members of the Executive Committee and other information about the Group and its activities as well as items of legal interest. The website is regularly updated with news, details of events and regulatory developments.
(f) The Group has a good relationship with many suppliers of legal products and services and has arranged for sole practitioners to receive discounted training, services and equipment, building up a member benefits-package.
(g) The Group aims to provide Guidance on specific aspects of practice management for members including advising members how to protect their practices in the event of sudden illness and after death. Other guidance includes the supervision of offices and handling of complaints. The Group maintains close relations with some of the key staff in LeO and in the Professional Ethics arm of the SRA who have given the Group much support in its guidance work.
(h) Recognising that sole practitioners might be in a vulnerable position in the market place in respect to the availability of Indemnity Insurance, the Executive set out to establish a special relationship with an insurance broker to ensure that insurance would be available for all sole practitioners to access if eligible. After interviewing a number of insurance brokers, the group maintain a close relationship with a group of individual insurance brokers previously working through Prime Professions and now incorporated into Willis. Our confidence in these brokers are such that we can ask them to advise on any members professional indemnity problems, whether they are able to place the insurance themselves or not. Willis now give the Group financial support that is independent of The Law Society.
(i) Discrimination against sole practitioners by some lenders continues to be a problem and members of the Executive committee have liaised with lenders over the recent period of lenders reduction in their conveyancing panel solicitors. The Group has co-operated with the Law Society in its setting up of CQS.
3. RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER BODIES
(a) The Group responds to all relevant Consultation Papers issued by the Law Society, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Legal Services Board, Legal Aid Agency and other relevant bodies. The SPG provides an effective means for the Group to convey the views of sole practitioners and to consult and lobby on matters affecting sole practitioners to organisations which impact on the practice and regulation of sole practitioners.
(b) At present under the current composition of The Law Society Council, the Group is entitled to nominate two sole practitioners as council members. These Council Members express their views in Council independently in the interests of the profession as a whole but are able to relay the concerns of sole practitioners. Sole practitioners also play their part in contributing the to well being of the profession by participating in the activities of Local Law Societies, representing geographical Constituencies on the Council, and where possible, serving on Committees and Working Groups of the Law Society.
(c) Members of the Executive Committee have also worked with the Lexcel team to ensure that there is special consideration given to the needs of sole practitioners in applying Practice Management Standards. Lexcel is seen as the important development for all practices including sole practitioners but the Group is anxious to ensure that sole practitioners are not put off by the extensive documentation in the Lexcel pack, some of which is over complicated for very small practices.
(d) The Group is able to relay official information to members in a way that the Solicitors Regulation Authority and other organisations in their regulatory and disciplinary role may be unable to do. It is also possible through the Group’s newsletter and other means to explain complex Policy Issues on which Executive Committee members, because of their direct involvement with the Law Society, are up to date and more conversant than the average member. Sole Practitioners also respond to the experiences of other working practitioners and are encouraged if “one of their own” has adopted one or other of the Law Society initiatives.