SRA business plan targets solicitor-advocates and technology

Philip: We must be agile and responsive

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to check the training records of solicitor-advocates working in the higher courts, its latest business plan has revealed.

The regulator also intends to develop a programme of new ‘proof of concept’ activity to support technological innovation in the legal market.

Describing advocacy standards as a “high priority”, the SRA said it wanted to “explore how we can make sure that assessment of the higher rights of audience qualification is consistent and robust”.

The SRA announced last summer that it was ending the practice of allowing trainee solicitors to obtain higher rights of audience.

It also announced random sampling of the training records of solicitors practising in the youth courts, which took place this summer and which is now the subject of an audit to “identify potential actions and next steps”.

The regulator said in its business plan for the year starting November 2021 that this would be followed by carrying out “a random sample of the training records of solicitors working in the magistrates and higher courts”.

Competences would be developed to outline the standard of advocacy expected from solicitors practising in the youth courts, while work would continue to enhance the accreditation scheme for police station representatives.

Another area that the SRA will be monitoring is the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). Students will take the first SQE 1 exams next month.

The regulator said it was launching a 10-year monitoring and evaluation programme and the first SQE assessments would be quality assured.

This would include studying the impact of the exam on students with protected characteristics.

On technology the SRA said there was “much more that we think we can, and should, be doing in this area” to improve its projects and initiatives.

“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.

“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.”

As it continued to “drive innovative approaches across the legal services sector”, the regulator said this would include “a particular focus on supporting small firms”.

Meanwhile funding from its latest successful bid to the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund would be used to “address regional inequalities in access to justice by exploring and demonstrating the feasibility of new lawtech solutions”.

The regulator would look to continue to promote its “improved” SRA innovation space and “develop a programme of new ‘proof of concept’ activity and collaborative actions to continue to maximise our impact on responsible technology and innovation”.

Other plans for the coming year included a ‘year three’ evaluation of the transparency rules on price and service, to “identify impacts and understand their effectiveness in the legal services market”.

Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, said: “The world has of course changed significantly in the last 18 months and it will take some time for the implications of the pandemic on the legal sector to be properly understood.

“We must be agile and responsive to make sure high professional standards and public protection are maintained.”

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