The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has today set out a series of measures aimed at improving its relationship with small firms.
It said it wanted to counter perceptions that the regulator is indifferent to small firms, and that it does not understand the practicalities of running them.
“It is acknowledged that the SRA has done much over the past four years to improve our working relationship with larger commercial firms,” a discussion paper released today said. “We need to ensure that we also have good engagement with sole practitioners and other small firms.”
The SRA defines a small firm as one with no more than four partners and 10 solicitors in total, and a turnover of no more than £200,000 – this captures 3,602, or 34%, of all firms.
The initiatives include a dedicated small firm section of the SRA website, virtual small firm reference groups and a ‘regulatory starter pack’ for those setting up a sole practice or small firm. There are also plans for a similar pack to help smaller firms that need to close, webinars and joint guidance produced with the likes of the Law Society and practitioner groups.
Further, the SRA’s professional ethics helpline is to have a dedicated small firms service, while its supervision directorate will create a dedicated small firms team.
As previously flagged, the regulator is considering how to make compliance officer approval easier for small firms. The discussion paper said: “One option would be to operate a system of deemed approval where the COLP/COFA is the sole practitioner or one of the lawyer managers in a two-four manager recognised body.
“Firms would notify us on mySRA of any appointments to these roles that fall into those categories. This would save the need for a separate application and approval process. We would operate the same deemed approval system on any application for authorisation by a new small firm.”
The SRA said broader changes – such as reforms to professional indemnity insurance and accountants’ reports, and a review of the Handbook during 2015 to reduce regulatory burdens and make it simpler – will benefit small firms.
It will survey small firms in late 2015 to evaluate progress.
Chief executive Paul Philip said: “Small firms play a really important part in the provision of good legal services and we want to do everything we can to provide support. We are committed to making sure that our regulation works for all types of firm and to do that we need to be much more approachable and accessible.
“I am asking small firms to tell us what would work for you, to join our virtual reference group and to use the additional services we are offering.”