Guest insight: Keeping things simple, making things flexible

Crispin Passmore, Solicitors Regulation Authority Executive Director of Policy, outlines the SRA’s vision for regulatory reform and development, and a more accommodating framework for pro bono

In June, we published the first phase of changes we want to make to the Handbook to create shorter, clearer principles and codes, and simpler Accounts Rules.

We began the process of changing how we regulate two years ago when we published our position paper, Looking to the Future. It set out a new vision for our regulation, which was designed to ensure our model is targeted, proportionate and fit for purpose in a fast-changing and dynamic legal services market. We also outlined our intention to redraft our existing Handbook to make it shorter, clearer and easier to use. Since then we have directly engaged with more than 11,000 solicitors and members of the public to find out their views on our proposals.

The first phase of revisions creates shorter, clearer principles and codes, as well as much simpler Accounts Rules. We have moved beyond pages and pages of detailed rules to a focus on principles and maintaining the high, consistent professional standards that the public expects and that offers the best possible protection. For instance, the new Accounts Rules have been reduced from 41 pages to seven by focusing on the protections that really matter, specifically keeping clients' money safe. This sharp focus on professional standards means we can give firms greater flexibility, and moves regulation away from being a tick-box exercise, putting more trust in solicitors' professional judgment.

A move towards two codes

We want to make sure that every solicitor is absolutely clear about their personal obligations and responsibility to maintain the highest professional standards, whether they work in-house, or inside or outside an Legal Services Act (LSA)-regulated firm. So we have created a separate code for individual solicitors. There will be separate codes for firms, so they will have clarity about the systems and controls they need to provide good legal services for consumers and the public.

Working outside LSA-regulated firms

Our revised Practice Framework Rules will make it explicit that the increased flexibility for solicitors to practise outside SRA-regulated firms will extend to those working pro bono. As with any other non-reserved work, solicitors will be able to provide pro bono services from anywhere, and will no longer be required by our rules to meet our insurance minimum terms and conditions. Solicitors will continue to be able to provide reserved legal services pro bono through what the LSA calls special bodies (such as not-for-profits). We reached this position following discussions with a range of these types of organisations.

Other responses to feedback

In addition to broad support for making the Handbook simpler, we received lots of useful feedback on the detail. We have made changes in response. For instance we recognised that proposals around greater flexibility on client money could have had cost implications for some firms. So we have amended the definition of client money, so the vast majority of firms with a client account can continue as they are

Changes that will facilitate unbundling

The term 'unbundling' is widely used to describe allowing clients to do aspects of their legal work themselves. Our Board's decision to allow solicitors to provide non-reserved legal services outside of SRA-regulated entities will also facilitate unbundling of those services. Those solicitors will be able to offer the non-reserved elements of their work at prices that might be more affordable for those that either cannot pay for or simply do not need the “full service”.

We will be consulting on proposed changes to other parts of the Handbook, including authorisation, Practice Framework Rules and new enforcement policy, later this year. The new arrangements will not be introduced any earlier than autumn 2018.

So, our Looking to the Future programme will make sure we regulate to maintain high professional standards, get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy and give solicitors and their firms greater flexibility. We look forward to talking more with the profession and other interested parties as we develop our proposals further.

Find out more about our proposals on our website


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