The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to remain on report over its performance in licensing alternative business structures (ABSs) until it outlines how it will stop making “disproportionate” requests for information from applicants, it has emerged.
The regulator has to provide regular updates to the Legal Services Board (LSB) on its progress with ABS licensing under a so-called section 55 notice, and the board has considered ending this in light of performance improvements.
But a report to the LSB’s full board meeting last month said: “We still have concerns as to whether the information required from applicants by the SRA is proportionate or targeted to what the Legal Services Act actually stipulates. In this regard, work done by the LSB on schedule 13 approvals exposed a number of areas where information requests have been considered disproportionate.”
Schedule 13 is where the detailed licensing requirements are laid out; it has long been a concern that the SRA takes these too far, particularly in investigating a long way up the chain of ownership.
The report continued: “The SRA has promised to review these issues. We consider that this represents a genuine commitment. We understand that it has identified and is already carrying out work on its authorisation process.
“However, it has not as yet produced project plans or shared these with us, as agreed. As such, the scope, timetable and expected deliverables for its review are unclear. We have made clear to the SRA that the section 55 notice will have to remain in place until this is progressed.”
The SRA has been unable to provide a comment to Legal Futures on what stage its work on this has reached.
The report also outlined how the SRA’s ABS authorisation process is running at the moment:
- As of 15 January, the SRA has granted 363 ABS licences
- It takes on average just over six months from the submission of an application for a firm to be granted an ABS licence;
- Of the applications submitted since January 2014 which have been granted a licence (73 licences), the average time taken is under three and a half months;
- The SRA has reduced its work in progress caseload from 142 applications in January 2013 to 37 in January 2015 and during this time it has closed 105 applications through withdrawal and granted 288 ABS licences;
- The average age of a work in progress application is over two and a half months; and
- None of the work in progress applications are older than nine months and four applications are over six months old.