Law firms recruiting partners must now seek the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) approval prior to appointment, it has confirmed.
However, it is still unable to confirm when the process will begin for firms to nominate their compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) and for finance and administration (COFA).
New rules that came into force over the weekend mean firms can no longer simply notify the SRA of new partners after the event.
However, solicitors who do not have any conditions on their practising certificates preventing them from being a manager or an owner will be deemed as already authorised and so subject to a “lighter-touch” authorisation process, the SRA has confirmed, rather than the full process, including the suitability test. This may include a Criminal Records Bureau check.
SRA executive director Richard Collins said: “We need to ensure that approval processes are in place that allow for managers to be properly
approved within the context of the authorised body that they will manage.”
There is also a change for non-lawyer managers of legal disciplinary practices, whose approval is no longer transferrable to a non-lawyer manager role at another firm.
In further changes brought about by transition to the SRA Authorisation Rules, recognised bodies will move to a system of lifelong recognition and certificates will be sent to them over the coming months.
Sole practitioners were expected to transition into the SRA Authorisation Rules on 31 March, a process requiring an order under section 69 of the Legal Services Act 2007, which allows the Lord Chancellor to modify the functions of approved regulators.
However, the order is not yet in place so as an interim step, the SRA has put in place equivalent provisions within the SRA Practising Regulations 2011, which will be contained within the soon-to-be-published third edition of the SRA Handbook and puts sole practitioners into the position they would have been in had the order been made.
The SRA said the COLP and COFA nomination process is expected to commence “in the next six weeks”, which is what it said in its last statement on 14 March. It added: “It is still the SRA‘s intention to approve by the original date of 31 October, when COLPs and COFAs must start fulfilling their duties.”