The board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) this week approved the third edition of the SRA Handbook since it went live last October, with a fourth one due before the end of June.
The SRA said it recognised the disruption that so many updates in such a short time would cause the regulated community but argued that they have been unavoidable. The plan is to have two updates a year once implementation of the new regime has settled down.
The board also urged solicitors to rely on the online version of the Handbook rather than the printed copy sold by the Law Society.
The key changes in the third edition include a glossary that, so far as possible, applies common definitions across all rules; amendments to ensure that authorisation to provide immigration advice extends to alternative business structures (ABS); various additions to the education and training regulations, such as granting accreditation for prior learning to legal practice course applicants; and an obligation on solicitors who are also insolvency practitioners to comply with the Insolvency Code of Practice.
A range of other changes arise from experience of how the rules have worked since last October. In particular the practice framework rules have been amended so that soli
citor involvement in a body owning an ABS does not automatically mean that the solicitor is ‘practising’ in that body, and nor that the body itself requires authorisation.
The June update will be necessary to resolve a long-running debate over whether in-house lawyers offering services to persons other than their employer need to be working in an ABS. Technically it is about the extent to which rule 4 of the practice framework rules is consistent with section 15(4) of the Legal Services Act 2007.
Section 15(4) requires in-house lawyers offering reserved legal activities to “the public or a section of the public” to do so from an ABS – this could affect, for example, solicitors working for associations. The proposed resolution is simply to tell solicitors that they have to comply with section 15(4), which SRA executive director Richard Collins told the board would be a “very fact specific” exercise.
Board member Malcolm Nicholson said the regular updates to the Handbook were “not terribly satisfactory”, a view with which Mr Collins said he had “a huge amount of sympathy”. However, they had been necessary as the SRA managed the whole process of reform, he said. “The key is having good mechanisms to notify the profession.”
Members agreed with Tom Keevil that solicitors should rely on the online version rather than the hardcopy given that the latter is already out of date. Incoming standards committee chairwoman Sara Nathan said she was “seriously concerned” by the society’s publication, which was branded as though it comes from the SRA when the SRA has no control over it. Members also noted that the proceeds from sales go to the society.