Licensed conveyancers are to be the latest section of the legal profession to move to outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) as its regulator prepares to become a licensing authority for alternative business structures (ABSs).
If the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) is successful in its aim of becoming a licensing authority for October 2011 alongside the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), would-be ABSs will have a choice of regulator.
The Institute of Legal Executives – which is also planning to become an ABS regulator, although not in 2011 – has already changed its code of conduct, while the SRA is in the process of doing so.
The CLC has issued a consultation on a new code of conduct, which goes alongside its bid for the right to grant litigation and advocacy rights (see story ). It already has the power to grant rights to conduct reserved probate activity. The CLC will only be able to regulate ABSs that are within its own areas of competence, which in part is why it has been seeking to extend its regulatory remit.
The Legal Services Board has said that it expects the regulation of ABSs to be based primarily on OFR, and the CLC said this shift of focus will mean that “clients receive a service tailored to their needs; legal service providers can develop new and different ways of delivering services to their customers; and the CLC establishes an environment which enhances client protection, promotes competition and provides informed choice for consumers”.
In the consultation, the CLC said it recognised that a principles-based regime meant both less prescription and more uncertainty as to the expectations of the regulator in a specific set of circumstances. “Some regulatory bodies, especially new ones, may not feel sufficiently confident in a regime which does not prescribe what they must do. We will ensure appropriate guidance is available for those who require it,” it said.
The draft code has six core principles, compared to the 10 put forward in the SRA’s own consultation on OFR. The six principles are that licensed conveyancers must:
- Act with independence and integrity;
- Maintain proper standards of work;
- Act in the best interests of clients;
- Comply with your duty to the court;
- Deal with regulators and ombudsmen in an open and co-operative way;
- Promote equality of access and service.
The SRA’s proposed core principles are similar but additionally require solicitors to: uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice; behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in them and in the provision of legal services; run their business/carry out their role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles; and protect client money and assets.
Meanwhile, a customer satisfaction survey conducted for the CLC has found licensed conveyancers largely happy with their regulator. Three-quarters of the 563 licensed conveyancers and students questioned either agreed with the statement that the CLC is a professional and well-administered organisation, is approachable and accessible and sets high standards. However, only 56% agreed that the CLC works effectively with others.