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“Humble” SRA decides to grade itself as “undertaking improvement”

Paul Philip [1]

Philip: not wanting to be “overconfident”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has decided not to grade itself as ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ in a self-assessment exercise for the Legal Services Board (LSB).

Instead the regulator chose the middle grade of ‘undertaking improvement and work is well under way’. The remaining options were ‘needs improvement and work has started recently’ and recognising the need but ‘work has not yet started’.

Chief executive Paul Philip told a board meeting yesterday that the SRA had chosen to respond “in a humble way” rather than stressing its achievements.

Board member David Willis, a former managing partner of City firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said that while he was happy to go along with the grading, “we would have been justified in seeking a satisfactory grading if we chose to do so”.

Mr Willis said the chosen grading “avoided the risk of asking for something and not getting it” but said there had been huge improvements at the SRA.

“We should be driving the performance of the organisation to where we want to take it. It is incidental where it comes out in this review. It will never get to the point where we are satisfied because there is always more to do.”

Graham Chisnall, chair of the SRA’s financial and resources committee, said he was also concerned that the self-assessment did not take into account recent improvements. “We’re underplaying how much better the organisation has performed in the last 12 months,” he said.

David Heath, board member and former Liberal Democrat MP, said that he didn’t know where the LSB’s grading system “came from” and it “doesn’t really make sense”.

Speaking at a press briefing afterwards Mr Philip said “conservative” might have been a better word for the SRA’s approach than “humble”.

“Just because we’re understating things, does not mean we’re not confident. What I do not wish to be in any shape or form is overconfident.”

Enid Rowlands, chair of the SRA, said confidence was growing but it took time to improve every area of the organisation.

“Next year, will I be content with the same rating? Possibly not. We are absolutely clear about our ambition – to be an absolutely top notch regulator, well respected by the profession, efficient, effective and giving users of legal services what they deserve.”

The SRA ranked itself as “undertaking improvement” in the last full self-assessment for the LSB, for the year 2012-13, and in last year’s internal exercise. After the first exercise, the LSB said the SRA had “substantial work” to do [2] before its performance could be considered satisfactory.