The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is set to increase its budget by £2m in the next year as it looks to step up work on issues ranging from anti-money laundering to supporting lawtech.
However, the increase in the budget to nearly £72m will not necessarily mean a rise in the cost of practising, as the regulator said in its draft business plan for the year from 1 November 2021 that it did not expect its share of practising fees to grow.
The individual practising certificate fee has remained unchanged at £278 since 2017/18. The SRA proportion throughout has been between £147 and £151, and it predicted this would not increase.
A consultation on practising fees will be published by the Law Society soon.
There will also be a saving as the SRA said the Compensation Fund contribution for individuals will reduce from £50 to £40.
The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam will be a big focus of the SRA’s year, but the business plan also committed to:
- Expanding the rolling programme of anti-money laundering visits to law firms and publishing a review of the role of money laundering officers;
- Creating an internal quality assurance team, independent of the SRA’s operational work, to help assure the standards and consistency of enforcement decision making;
- Evaluating its approach to using fining powers; and
- Working towards a centralised assessment for the higher rights of audience qualification.
The regulator said it would look to develop “specific initiatives that promote and develop the use of legal technology and innovation”.
This will include improving the SRA innovation space and launch a programme of ‘proof of concept’ activity.
A spokesman explained: “We have often been told from firms, investors and others involved in innovation that proof-of-concept would be vital to the development of lawtech. They point to similar developments in fintech as proof of this need.
“We are therefore asking as part of the consultation what other key stakeholders think about this issue so that we can get a better idea of what we want to achieve, and what those involved in innovation would find beneficial.”
The plan said the SRA would also build relationships with innovation labs and business schools at a regional level “to explore and trial new approaches” towards technology and innovation.
“We think there is more to do to leverage technology to respond and help to better address unmet legal need across England and Wales, and in ways that help to reach diverse communities through digital solutions,” the plan said.
“And to identify any areas where a growing reliance on technology maybe having a negative impact on the rule of law, administration of justice and certain groups of end users.”