Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures
‘Freedom in Practice: Better Outcomes for Consumers’ is being billed as the SRA’s biggest-ever consultation exercise, which is appropriate given that outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) is such a massive change to the regulation of the profession. It comes with its own logo and website on top of the authority’s usual outreach tools of consultation papers and roadshows.
SRA consultations do not generally generate a massive response – the last four for which there are figures received 55, 54, 69 and 33 replies respectively (that last one being about the small matter of regulating alternative business structures). The respondents are generally other regulators and representative bodies, with a small number of interested individuals and firms too.
Clearly there is only so much the SRA can do to, first, let people know what it is consulting on and, second, encourage them to respond. The new website is a start. It promises resources and the opportunity for solicitors to put their questions to the SRA. One of the roadshows will be selected for live video-streaming online (although a purely online version would be a good idea too).
I understand that the SRA is also working on other initiatives to catch the attention of as many solicitors as possible. Hopefully the website will have a forum for discussion, and there is talk of podcasts. The SRA is also planning to get into social media. Other ideas spring to mind – how about preparing a package that larger firms could distribute to solicitors via their intranets, and also engaging with existing legal community websites, such as RollonFriday? Certainly the SRA is receptive to imaginative ideas, so if you have them, pass them on.
I can attest that the communications team at the SRA is staffed by good professionals who are efficient, accommodating and understand the way the media works. But over the years what was the Law Society’s regulatory arm and is now the SRA, as an innately conservative organisation, has not given communication the priority it should. Since becoming the SRA and finding itself much more in the cross-hairs of critics, this has begun to change. Now the SRA is advertising for a director of communications reporting directly to chief executive Antony Townsend. This will hopefully raise the importance of communications issues even further internally.
By stripping away many of the detailed rules in the current Code of Conduct, OFR promises to put the spotlight on the principles that underpin what it is to be a solicitor. The SRA could scarcely be consulting on a more important issue. So it is incumbent on them to ensure that this process is as accessible as possible. But it is far more incumbent on the profession to take this opportunity to have its say.