SRA to throw spotlight on incompetence in the profession

Philip: We will protect consumers

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to publish an annual competence report on the whole profession this summer, coupled with pro-actively targeting incompetent solicitors.

Alongside this activity will be a pilot project with firms suspected of falling short on competence in the autumn.

Responding to a demand from the Legal Services Board last summer that regulators deliver action plans on improving their ongoing competence regimes, the SRA said that it would this summer publish the first annual report setting out “our general assessment of the profession’s competence”.

This will “highlight areas of practice where there is a risk that our expectations are not always being met” and assess the “likely impact of those risks”.

The action plan said the regulator would be “informed by a tool that we have developed to analyse data and information about incompetence”.

It analyses reports of incompetence to the SRA, complaints outcomes published by the Legal Ombudsman and HM Land Registry requisitions (questions it raises about information provided by conveyancers).

The SRA said it could rely on other sources, such as declarations made at practising certificate renewal, data from recent thematic reviews of law firms or from anti-money laundering activities.

Meanwhile, the SRA will this year, “on an incremental basis”, target solicitors who are the subject of “competence reports which do not meet our threshold for enforcement, but in response to which we would expect to see improvement”.

The SRA will write to the individual or firm involved to inform them of the need for improvement, with a follow-up requesting an update on improvement and confirmation of remedial action taken.

“If we do not get a satisfactory response to our requests for action, we will refer the individual or firm into our enforcement processes.”

The SRA’s thematic team will identify potentially incompetent law firms “for a pro-active, risk-based review of how they secure the competence of their solicitors and other employee”.

Data used to select law firms will include complaints to the Legal Ombudsman and the findings of its first annual competence assessment.

“Where we identify that a firm is not meeting our standards, we will work with them to bring them into compliance. We will take enforcement action against those who fail to respond to our engagement activity.

“We will begin a pilot of this work with a small number of firms from autumn 2023 and build up our activity incrementally.”

The SRA said it would also continue to review training records during 2023, focusing on high-risk areas, such as immigration advice and services.

In a further development, the SRA said its relationship management team had been reviewing the competence regimes of the 70 largest law firms, responsible for employing 38% of practising solicitors.

“Overall, we were extremely satisfied with how effectively these firms were meeting our competence requirements.”

Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, commented: “We expect the profession to deliver a high standard of service to those who need their help. That means we must make sure that solicitors and the employees of firms we regulate have up-to-date skills, knowledge and behaviours.

“During 2023, we will further improve how we identify solicitors and firms who are not meeting our expectations and work with individual solicitors and firms where we have concerns about competence.

“We will take enforcement action where necessary to protect consumers where standards fall short.”

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