The proposed new SRA regulations – ‘fudged’ not ‘focused’?

on 30 November, 2010 Email this Email this - Print this Print this

A deafening silence when there should be debate…

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has today published the ‘final draft’ of its move to principles-based regulation, which will see a radical overhaul of the current code of conduct, abolishing many of the current detailed rules in favour of 10 broad principles…. From Law Gazette 20/10/10

The proposed regulations appear fudged not focused. The previous ‘tick box’ method did not improve standards, but did give lawyers certainly as to compliance. It is assumed that non-compliance with these significant regulatory changes is not an option but currently there seems to be negligible interest. Is it unclear what is expected by the new rules? Are they being ignored for a reason or is the profession ready to adapt to the new regime?

The purpose of this document:

Do you want to be part of an entirely independent discussion using social media and discussion groups? The aim is to identify the key issues, clarify and categorise them, to form a consensus on compliance. The objective is to help provide constructive solutions to help law firms demonstrate compliance and quantifiable improvements in service to both the SRA and your clients.

We are seeking a rapid response from solicitors, service providers to law firms and other stakeholders. Your feedback would be welcome.

Background

Before compliance would generally be achieved by going through the process and ‘ticking the boxes’. Now there is no ‘route map’ and a completely different approach required with the shift to ‘outcome focused regulation’, quite probably with methods showing evidence of measurement and progress.

As an example mandatory principle 5 of the currently proposed SRA handbook, states that solicitors must ‘provide a proper standard of service to your clients’. Two extracts from Chapter 1 of the proposed SRA Code of Conduct mention  ‘Helping you and your clients understand each others expectations and responsibilities’ and  ‘Ensuring you deliver competent legal services to clients’…

‘Where to start?’ may well be your first question, but for now here are the questions we’re asking:

1)    Assuming the regulations cannot be ignored, what are the likely sanctions for not complying?

2)    How and with what evidence are you going to be able to produce to showing you are complying with these provisions?

3)    Do you think the new ‘guiding principles’ serve to improve standards as well as giving certainty to law firms on compliance? Please give your reasons.

4)    SRA auditors used to have had clear criteria to follow and adopt, whereas the new rules introduce subjectivity – is this an alien concept auditors given their approach and training?

5)    If the proposed regulations were quantified (where possible) to monitor improvements and solutions offered as to how to achieve these, would that be more helpful?

6)    Do the proposed regulations make law firms more susceptible to SRA investigations/client complaints?

Please leave your comments/answers to the  questions in the box below and send the link on to other interested parties in your network.


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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jason Cobine // Dec 6, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    I think the profession is ready for certainty. I’m not sure that the draft regulations make things clear enough.

    Quantification of measures for compliance and sanctions is vital yet needs the input of the sector in order to pass the test of what is reasonable.

    If notifications of complaints can be reduced the changes will be welcomed.

  • 2 Paul Bennett // Dec 9, 2010 at 11:05 am

    The position is so uncertain that firms are going to struggle to be sure of their compilance.

    The SRA are saying the right things now in terms of potential enforcement but they long ago lost the trust of the profession – in essence the difficultly for them is to aid compilance and only punish those that deserve it.

    OFR does not have a great track record of being sucessful in other professions – see the sucess of the FSA – but the current tick box and presribed compilance approach does not work either for the the profession (or clients).

    My real concern is uncertainty – when we work with other law firms they are concerned about this. They want to manage effectively, to manage without complaints, to manage in the right way to make money, but firms are overwhelmed until guided through – because compilance is a mine field and OFR will add more confusion to the mix in the short to medium term.

    The changes are linked to the introduction of ABS’s and wider provision of legal services by non lawyers. The focus is therefore on consumers – what about businesses?

    From a personal point of view its a good thing – our training and consultancy work is up but for firms and client the jury is firm out and probably will be into 2012 which is unfortunate.

  • 3 Jason Cobine // Dec 10, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    I know all about the FSA. The rule book is huge and the penalties weak.

    Perhaps the SRA regulations have been “fudged” because of the uncertainty regarding Alternative Business Structures?

    If businesses are able to buy solicitors are the businesses going to be regulated as a law firm? Do the owners of the business have to comply or is someone within the practice ultimately responsible?

    I would prefer the former yet the proposed regulations do not make that clear.

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