Regulatory reform and the rapidity of change

2019 will see significant changes to the regulatory regime for solicitors as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) prepare to introduce their Handbook reforms, which were approved by the Legal Services Board in December.

Originally due in April, implementation has been pushed back a few months. The changes, which cover the full range of professional codes, principles, practice and accounting rules, are accompanied by new policies on transparency, waivers and enforcement. You can see LawWorks responses to consultations, including to the SRA’s Strategy:

The consultation process opened up a useful dialogue with the SRA on regulatory issues impacting pro bono, focusing on areas of uncertainty under existing practice rules:

  • Last year we helped secure a pro bono position statement from the SRA to clarify and provide assurance on the permissibility of employed private practice solicitors volunteering in clinics outside their employment.
  • In respect of insurance, the SRA consulted us on changing the insurance requirements for solicitors providing reserved legal services on behalf of special bodies to having ‘adequate and appropriate’ rather than ‘reasonably equivalent’ insurance.
  • We have commented on new draft guidance for charities and not-for-profit bodies the SRA have commissioned to accompany the Handbook.
  • We held a clinics roundtable last November with the SRA which facilitated useful feedback and dialogue.
  • The SRA have confirmed renewal of our clinics waiver which can enable solicitors volunteering through affiliated pro bono clinics to come under LawWorks insurance in certain circumstances.

In its position statement on pro bono the SRA states that it wants “to encourage those willing and able to carry out pro bono work to do so.” We will shortly be publishing guidance for in-house solicitors clarifying the scope of pro bono that can be undertaken despite some regulatory issues.

The regulatory landscape may continue to evolve, to implement changes associated with the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), and to address innovation delivery through LawTech. Over the past year we have held joint one day workshop events with CLEO on both of these issues.

In light of the changing legal services market, Professor Stephen Mayson is undertaking an ‘independent review’ of legal services regulation, in part to explore the longer-term issues raised by the 2016 Competition and Markets Authority's 'Legal services market study' and its recommendations. The Legal Services Board are also consulting on their objectives, proposing a greater emphasis on consumer awareness and public legal education.

Our next member Forums will focus on the issues of regulation and pro bono, including the challenges and opportunities for in house teams, discussion with Stephen Mayson on his review, and with the SRA about the new handbook.

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