The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to end the monopoly currently enjoyed by the Law Society’s ‘Find a Solicitor’ website, by making the data behind it available to commercial comparison sites.
In a further step, the regulator said in its business plan, launched yesterday, that it would start work next year on its own “online regulatory register” for members of the public, which could include disciplinary sanctions.
Crispin Passmore, executive director at the SRA, said commercial comparison websites would be able to use its data “to deliver something comparable to Find a Solicitor, and might want to add extra information.”
He went on: “We’re facilitating all sorts of people to do new and better things. It may prompt the Law Society to get involved in more imaginative comparison-type activity to help people find the right lawyer.”
The regulator said in its business plan that it would make available next month data containing “core information about regulated firms” to other information providers, such as comparison websites.
Meanwhile it would start developing its own register next year with the aim of going live early in 2016.
Mr Passmore said the new register could go beyond “Find a Solicitor”, in providing details of all solicitors on the roll, as well as those with PCs, and including disciplinary sanctions.
Elsewhere in the business plan, the SRA promised to review its approach to the regulation of in-house lawyers, with a view to consulting on amendments to the rules by April 2015.
“Our rules which set out the regulatory requirements for solicitors working in-house were not modernised when the SRA Handbook was published in October 2011.
“We believe that these requirements require re-examination and amendment to remain relevant to the way that in-house practice has developed in recent years.”
The regulator said it would turn its attention to the SRA Handbook as a whole in April next year “with a view to radical simplification”.
The SRA went on: “We will seek views from the profession and consumers and consider other professions and jurisdictions in formulating our proposals. Our current expectation is that we will consult before October 2015 with a view to changes being implemented in 2016.”
The SRA said a discussion paper on plans for the “more proportionate regulation of smaller firms” would be published by the end of this year.
This would include both changes to formal regulatory requirements and seeking views about the way SRA staff “supervise and engage with smaller firms”.
The SRA said this had the potential to “contribute towards addressing the disproportionality in regulatory outcomes experienced by BAME solicitors”.
The regulator said that new year would see it “begin the analysis necessary to inform the replacement of our online system for the annual renewal of practicing certificates”.
The system, introduced in 2011 and operating under the name mySRA, has been criticised by many solicitors. The SRA admitted that it had proved to be neither “straightforward nor simple to use for those we regulate.”