How To Become A Freelance Solicitor In The UK [2024]

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 13th May 2024

Thinking about working as a freelance solicitor? We've been getting a lot of questions lately from solicitors - both freelancers and those working for a law firm - who are curious about the freelance option that the SRA introduced in 2019.

According to Paul Philip, Chief Executive of the SRA, the idea behind the new freelance option was to:

remove unnecessary regulatory burdens and allow solicitors to be more agile and adaptable in how they work day-to-day.

But for most, quite frankly, they don’t have the time to look into the options and what they’d need to do to set themselves up. Naturally, it's not something they want to rush, particularly having built up a reputation across their career that they could damage by rushing things. Does that sound like you too?

Don't worry - we've done all the hard work for you and put together a summary of the essential steps and answers to the main questions below. If there's anything else you're curious about, just ask! We're always here to help, and we love working with curious solicitors at Lawhive.

how-to-become-a-freelance-solicitor-in-the-uk

Who can become a freelance solicitor?

To become a freelance solicitor, you must:

  1. Have at least three years of experience as a solicitor since your admission or registration.

  2. Be self-employed and practise in your own name, without using a trading name or service company.

  3. Not be practising in a partnership, as a consultant on behalf of someone else, or through a limited company.

  4. Not employ anyone in connection with the services you provide. This includes contracting with others in connection with the services you provide, even if they are not called employees.

We're big fans of the freelance path because it's much faster to set up on your own. As long as you have a practising certificate, you could get your freelance practice up and running within a week.

If you want to provide reserved legal services as a freelance solicitor, you must meet the following conditions, in addition to those listed above:

  1. You must have a practising address in the UK.

  2. You must have indemnity insurance that provides adequate and appropriate cover for your services.

  3. You can only hold client money for payments on account of costs and disbursements you have not billed yet. Other types of client money must be handled separately.

  4. You must be engaged directly by clients, with fees payable directly to you.

3 steps to become a freelance solicitor

Register with the SRA

The first step is to let the SRA know you want to start trading as a freelance solicitor. You can do this by submitting the firm-based authorisation form on the SRA website.

Your SRA record will be updated to reflect your new trading status, allowing clients and other professionals to see that you're now operating as a freelancer. As long as you have a practising certificate without any conditions attached, you'll usually be approved in just a few days.

Get insured

You might find it surprising that the SRA doesn't mandate freelance solicitors to have professional indemnity insurance (PII) if they're doing non-reserved work. However, it's still wise to consider getting a policy to safeguard yourself against potential claims down the line.

If your work falls under reserved activities, though, you'll need to have "adequate and appropriate" indemnity insurance to meet the SRA's requirements. It's also a good idea to inform your insurer if you'll be meeting clients in your home office or working from home regularly.

Sort out your compliance documents

Once you’ve got your PII and registered with the SRA, there are just a few things to think about from a compliance point of view:

  • AML Checks: You should have a risk assessment policity in place, as well as procedures for verifying your client's identity. We know this can be a bit of a headache for freelance solicitors, so as part of the Lawhive platform, we conduct AML and KYC checks on all clients we refer to you, saving you time and effort.

  • Transparency Rules: Either on your website or in your marketing materials, you should publish cost information and details of your complaints procedure, especially if you’re doing reserved work.

  • Data Protection: Register with the ICO to confirm that you will store client data securely.

  • Business Address: You’ll need a practising address in the UK that you’re comfortable sharing with clients.

Client care letters should also clearly highlight your new freelance status to clients and inform them if their indemnity protection is limited because of it.

Limitations of freelance solicitors

Although the potential upside is huge, there are some limiting factors you ought to be aware of before you register as a freelancer:

  • Client Funds: You’re not allowed to hold client money as a freelance solicitor and can only take funds for your legal fees and disbursements. This is more of a problem for some practice areas, but many freelancer solicitors get around this by using Third Party Managed Accounts (TPMAs). You’ll need to let the SRA know if you’re going to go down this route though.

  • Undertakings: Especially if you are using a TPMA, the undertakings that you use in your day-to-day work may need a rewrite.

  • Employing Others: If you’re working in a reserved practice area, you won’t be able to employ anyone to help you in the business, e.g. secretary or paralegal. You will also need to trade through your own name, not via a Ltd company or LLP for reserved work.

Becoming a freelance solicitor FAQs

Do I need run-off cover?

As a freelance solicitor, you're not required by the SRA to buy run-off cover, even if you're handling reserved work.

However, it's a personal decision whether you want to get some coverage until the risk of claims has passed.

Consider factors like statutory limitation periods for negligence claims and your practice area, as some areas, like conveyancing, may have a higher likelihood of late-arising claims.

How will I store files in a way that maintains confidentiality and allows access to the files, particularly if I don’t have office premises?

Lots of law firms already use cloud-based technology to securely store client data. There is no need to retain paper-based copies of information, as long as you make sure you can comply with the Code of Conduct. Especially the client confidentiality and data protection sections.

At Lawhive, we take this matter seriously. Our client information is safeguarded with encryption levels similar to those used by banks. This includes messages or files sent through our platform. In fact, sharing data through Lawhive is even more secure than via email.

Do I need a CRM system?

Whether you need a CRM system for your freelance business is entirely up to you. It's not a requirement, but it can certainly help in managing your clients and business processes more efficiently.

There are plenty of options available, ranging from cloud-based to server-based solutions. Many cloud-based systems offer subscription models that are flexible and cost-effective for freelancers, with pricing based on the number of users and typically billed on a month-to-month basis.

Work with us

At Lawhive, our mission is to simplify legal work for consultants and freelance solicitors. Our user-friendly tech platform makes it easy to onboard clients, manage compliance, process payments, and handle invoices, allowing you to concentrate on the core aspects of your work.

What's more, we've recently introduced Lawrence, the AI Paralegal, on the Lawhive platform. Lawrence is here to assist solicitors with repetitive or tedious tasks, giving them more time to focus on tasks that require their unique expertise.

If you’re a solicitor looking to grow your business and are considering your next step, get in touch for a demo of the Lawhive platform and discover how we can support your journey as a freelance solicitor.

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