rblog

Should old acquaintance be forgot?

By Tom Barcham on 22 December 2014

The festive season is often a time of traditions. From the food we serve, to the presents we give, through to the schedule we follow, we tend to head down a path that we’ve trodden many times before. And perhaps this is no surprise; familiarity at a hectic time of year might reduce our stress levels (a little) and lends a welcome air of comfort.

However, these Christmas traditions are often in contrast to many changes we see around us. New perspectives, new gifts, even new television programmes—in between the repeats—attract our attention and change us, whilst resolutions made at New Year can be a time of major transformation (for a few weeks at least).

This paradox of tradition and change has parallels with the legal services sector where conventional practices are set alongside innovative, new approaches.

Tradition certainly has a strong role in the legal market. In a great many ways, today’s practice of law has parallels with that of yesteryear, reserved activities being one example. Conveyancing became reserved, for instance, in the Stamp Act 1804 and other reserved activities have long histories.

The relationship between client and solicitor has always been especially important, with features that set it apart from the relationship in other services. Supporting the proper administration of justice and the rule of law is of the utmost importance to those providing services. In many ways, the partnership and sole practitioner models have stood the test of time and still make up a substantial proportion of regulated firms. Legal practice, it seems, is sometimes fond of the tried-and-tested and the familiarity it brings.

At the same time though, novel approaches to the practice of law are taking root and challenging old traditions. New offerings such as unbundling of services and fixed fees, sometimes facilitated by innovative IT, show how different ways of thinking are changing some parts of the sector. Delivery of legal services in a new way, reaching out to different clients and the way that firms are set up are all the more varied than they once were.

We have discussed some of the changes that are affecting legal services. For instance, we have talked about how the market is consolidating and how new firm structures, made possible by the Legal Services Act 2007, introduce new risks. However, as we approach the New Year we are keen to reach out to the more traditional parts of the market.

Our recent discussion paper on small firms explains how we want to make our regulation work better for small firms with less assertion that one-size fits all. Our Risk Outlook and associated reports aim to cater for a diverse range of audiences, but we’re always keen to hear how we can tailor and develop our approach further.

We all like to celebrate in our own way at this time of year. Although some parts of our celebration are more similar than others, we can opt to enjoy the time as we like. So too, legal firms can practice in many different ways, adopting old or new approaches. Our regulation seeks to work well for all firms to both foster change and support established providers.  

Tom Barcham is a Risk Analyst at the Solicitors Regulation Authority.