The professions in the common law jurisdiction of England & Wales are almost as ancient as the jurisdiction itself. Having exported its system of law and finance to much of the commonwealth, its legal and accounting professional standards are trusted across the world.
But age and quality does not mean stuffy and inflexible. Professional regulators in England & Wales have some of the most innovative ideas we have seen for how lawyers and accountants should be regulated.
The regulations and even the words used to describe members of the professions can, however, be baffling even to people who have lived in the country all their lives. For those looking to instruct advisers in this jurisdiction, we have provided a summary of the different professions and how they are regulated.
Accountant: An accountant is a qualified individual who prepares, audits, and finalises the accounts of companies, individuals, and other entities. They are similar to auditors in the sense that both roles are responsible for the accounting of companies, but auditors usually have the added responsibility of reviewing the work of accountants and the remaining business. A general accountant in England & Wales is different to a chartered accountant. Chartered accountants are specialist in services and businesses, whilst possessing greater job experiences and a higher academic degree.
General accountants are expected to have completed the Advanced Diploma in Accounting (AAT) as a minimum requirement. The AAT is a degree for individuals wanting to start out a career in accounting, and it consists of three levels. The first level is the Foundation Certificate, a course that takes between 6-12 months to complete and is considered a level 2 qualification in the UK. The second stage is the Advanced Diploma course which also takes 6-12 months to complete, and is considered a level 3 qualification in the UK. The third stage is the Professional Diploma course which takes between 9-18 months to complete, and is considered a level 5 qualification in the UK.
In England & Wales, all accountants must adhere to the Financial Reporting Council’s (FRC). The FRC is an independent regulator in the UK and Ireland tasked with regulating auditors, accountants and actuaries, and setting the UK’s Corporate Governance and Stewardship Codes. As such, all accountants in England & Wales must adhere to the FRC’s Corporate Governance and Stewardship Codes.
Chartered Accountant: To be considered a qualified chartered accountant in England and Wales, an individual must have completed either the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant), ACCA (Associate Chartered Certified Accountant), or the CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountant).
The ACA is a professional qualification from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW), globally-recognised as a premier business diploma. ICAEW counts 140,000 members and students in 160 countries. The qualification requires the individual to enter into a training agreement with an authorised employer. They must the course within five years, whilst taking on 450 days of relevant work experience.
The ACCA has 586,000 members and students in 170 countries. This qualification can be completed as part of a training agreement or independently, and individuals are given up to ten years to pass their exams. In addition, they require at least three years of relevant work experience to complete the qualification.
The CIMA is a UK-based professional body focused on accounting for business. They offer training and qualifications in management accountancy and related subjects to their 203,000 members and students in 173 countries. Similar to the ACCA, individuals are given the opportunity to obtain their qualification independently or through a training agreement.
Lawyer: A lawyer is a generic term used to identify an individual who is a licensed legal practitioner qualified to give legal advice in one or more areas of law. They are either known as barristers, solicitors, or legal executives. Depending on the type of lawyer, all lawyers within England & Wales are regulated by a particular organisation. This reassures employers, clients and the public that they can trust organisational members as safe and competent legal practitioners.
Barrister: Barristers (in England & Wales) are lawyers specialised in advocacy, representing individuals or organisations in court, and providing reasoned opinions on complex areas of law. They are usually self-employed who come together with other barristers in ‘chambers’. They are more often instructed through solicitors for specialist work, rather than directly by clients.
Barristers practicing in England and Wales are regulated by the The Bar Standards Board (BSB).
Solicitor: A solicitor (in England & Wales) is a qualified lawyer responsible for preparing legal documentation, representing and/or defending a client’s legal interests. Usually working in firms, they are the first port of call for most clients, and will instruct barristers on their clients behalf where necessary.
Solicitors practicing in England and Wales are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Legal executive: Legal executives (in England & Wales) are a form of trained legal professional in certain jurisdictions. They often specialise in a particular area of law. The training that a Legal Executive undertakes usually includes both vocational training and academic qualifications.
Legal Adviser: A catch all term which includes regulated and unregulated lawyers. There are very few “reserved activities” which are required by law to be done by barristers and solicitors – everything else can be done by unregulated ‘legal advisers’ or other consultants, which are not regulated or required to have the same level of insurance, though most will have some form of insurance.
Tax Adviser: Another catch all term, a tax adviser is an individual specialised in tax legislation. Tax Advisers include tax lawyers, tax accountants and unqualified consultants. They provide advisory and consultancy services to their clients. They ensure that their clients pay taxes in the most efficient way and benefit from any tax advantages and exemptions.
Representative body for lawyers
Regulatory body for lawyers
Lawyers in England & Wales are regulated mainly by two bodies.
However, solicitors are also regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in addition to the SRA.
Lawyers Code of Conduct
The SRA Code of Conduct applies to solicitors, registered European lawyers (RELs), and registered foreign lawyers (RFLs).
The BSB Hanbook applies to barristers.
The CILEx Code of Conduct applies to chartered legal executive lawyers, other legal practitioners and paralegals.
Obligations and requirements to practice law
To practice law within England & Wales, solicitors are required to have completed/obtained the following:
- A qualifying law degree recognised by the SRA, such as an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) or GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law).
- An LPC (Legal Practice Course) or the new SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) introduced in September 2021 by the SRA.
- Minimum two years experience working full-time at a law firm, through a training contract.
- Acceptance by the SRA for admission to the roll (the register to practice in England & Wales).
Rules regarding referrals and commissions for lawyers
The SRA Code of Conduct sets out the level of professionalism expected from solicitors, RELs and RFLs.
The rules on referrals and commissions are illustrated in paragraphs 5.1-5.3.
The BSB Handbook sets out the degree of professionalism expected for practicing barristers within England & Wales.
Rule C10 specifically focuses on rules regarding referral fees and explains that “You must not pay or recieve referral fees”. Rule C10 works in conjunction with rules CD2-CD5 and is illustrated through gC29-32 within the handbook.
Solicitors within England & Wales can be found on the SRA register.
Barristers within England & Wales can be found on the BSB register.
Representative body for chartered accountants
Within England & Wales, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) is considered to be the main representative body.
Regulatory body for chartered accountants
There are six main regulatory bodies that regulate chartered accountants:
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI)
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
- Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
Chartered accountants’ code of ethics
The applicable code of ethics is provided by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), and is based off the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants of the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) published by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).
The code of ethics can be found here.
Obligations & requirements for accountants
- Obtain an accounting qualification. There is no set board that you must study with to become an accountant, but there are preferred boards, found here.
- Selecting a specialism within accounting. These specialisms are mainly split into two (management accounting and financial accounting), with each having a different fields of studies within them.
- Securing an apprenticeship, or obtaining work experience. Accountants should have previous experience from working within an appropriate industry.
Rules regarding referrals and commissions for accountants
There are a number of different professional accountancy organizations (PAOs) within the UK that establish ethical requirements for their members. All PAOs base their ethical requirements in conjunction with the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) Code of Ethics.
The ethical requirements for chartered accountants within England and Wales is provided by the ICAEW Code of Ethics. Rules regarding referrals and commissions are indicated within section 330 and 331.
The Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA) register can be found here.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) register can be found here.
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) register can be found here.
The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) register can be found here.
The Certified Public Accountants Association (CPAA) register can be found here.
The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) register can be found here.