Robert Ryder of Advantage Solicitor outlines the key elements of the SRA’s move to outcomes-focused regulation and says it is essential solicitors have their say on it. Advantage Solicitor is a Legal Futures Associate
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) began a series of road shows in London this week to introduce the new approach to regulation of solicitors following the implementation of the Legal Services Act 2007. The event was very well attended, reflecting a high level of interest in the profession.
The SRA now proposes outcomes-focused regulation and is seeking to work in harmony with solicitors’ practices to ensure both freedom in practice and better outcomes for clients (now consumers). The new regime involves focusing on high-level principles and outcomes rather than the detailed code of conduct which the profession has worked under in the past.
A new code of conduct is being published this week and the timetable proposed by the SRA sees that code going through two processes of consultation and then coming into effect on 6 October 2011 – to coincide with the introduction of alternative business structures.
It is essential that solicitors’ practices should respond positively to the SRA’s consultation. Once the new code is implemented, it will again be essential that solicitors should be seen to be applying the new code, which can be demonstrated by “indicative behaviour”.
There are six familiar principles:
- Upholding the rule of law and proper administration of justice;
- Acting with integrity;
- Not allowing independence to be compromised;
- Acting in the best interests of each client;
- Providing a proper standard of service to clients; and
- Behaving in a way that maintains the trust that the public places in solicitors.
In addition there are four proposed new principles:
- Complying with legal and regulatory obligations and dealing with regulators and ombudsmen in an open timely and co-operative manner;
- Running the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles;
- Promoting equality and diversity and not discriminating unlawfully in connection with the provision of legal services; and
- Protecting client money and assets.
This latter new principle is one which many would argue is already embodied in the current code.
A new development sees the SRA declining to endorse “safe harbours”. It will therefore not be possible to ask the SRA to review a proposed procedure in the hope that this will afford protection at a later date from criticism in relation to any particular processes. Also, any new practice must now apply for authorisation, which is a process under which the SRA recognises and licences an individual or firm to practice law. The intention is to avoid practices starting up and operating which are “doomed to fail from the beginning”. At the present time interventions are running at an average of over one firm per week and this is acknowledged to be an expensive process – the cost of which is borne by the profession.
Solicitors are naturally concerned to ensure that the new regime of regulation is a fair one and that the playing field remains level as between solicitors and other players in the legal services market. It is all the more important therefore that representations are made to the SRA throughout the consultation process and the run-up to 6 October 2011. For more information please visit the SRA’s website at www.sra.org.uk.