Not too late to get involved

by Crispin Passmore, Executive Director, Policy

30 August 2016

We are a good way into our 16-week consultation on our changes to the handbook, and so far we've engaged with more than 1,000 individuals and almost 10,000 people have looked at the consultation pages online. We've received lots of thoughts, questions and comments, many positive, and some questioning parts of the proposals.

Support for simplicity

Broadly, people seem to like the idea of a shorter, simpler code, and the idea that solicitors should be able to practise law outside of regulated firms. We've conducted polls on Twitter asking "should solicitors be able to work outside a SRA-regulated business?", to which 64 per cent of respondents answered "yes". There is also support for a shortened set of principles; we took to Twitter again to ask "do you agree with our proposal for six rather than ten Principles?", to which 60 per cent voted "yes".

Approach to enforcement

We've had lots of questions about how we might enforce against the new rules. We are moving away from complex and overly-prescriptive rules, and want to give professionals more responsibility and flexibility to decide how they comply. This will inevitably create some 'grey areas' when it comes to compliance. We welcome views on such areas, especially where we know the landscape is complex and different pressures apply, such as in a situation where there might be a conflict of interest.

We will be producing a range of materials, such as case studies, decision trees and FAQs, to help solicitors and firms decide what action to take in certain circumstances.

We are also reviewing our decision-making framework and enforcement policy at present.

We will particularly draw upon feedback gathered from stakeholders through the A question of trust campaign, which asked the public and profession to consider a range of scenarios and decide how serious each offense was. We will consult on a new enforcement strategy in 2017 alongside our consultation on changes to the rest of the Handbook.

Maintaining high professional standards

One of the concerns raised is that the proposals will create a "two-tier" solicitors profession between those working in a regulated entity and those who are not. We think that solicitors are best placed to offer legal services, but at the moment they can't offer services in the wider market. We want to allow solicitors to offer their services in all areas of the legal market and compete with those already doing so outside of regulation—we think this will be good for solicitors, and good for customers.

We will require all solicitors to meet strict standards and ethical principles, irrespective of where they work. We think this will increase, rather than decrease standards. We agree, though, that this will only work if we take steps to help make consumers aware of their regulatory protections so that they can make an informed decision on what type of legal service to purchase.

Conflicts of interest

Another concern we have heard is that the changes will mean requirements on conflicts of interests and confidentiality will only apply to solicitors in firms regulated by the us. Under the proposals solicitors will still owe a duty of confidentiality to their clients, wherever they are working, be it in-house, in unregulated firms or authorised firms.

It is great that we are getting such extensive engagement. All the questions and concerns raised are helping us to shape our thinking. There is still more than a month to go before the consultation closes so there's still time to get involved. So let us know what you think.

Or alternatively, if you want to joint the debate online, we will be hosting a webinar at 12:30 on 6 September to talk though our thinking and hear views. 

Register for the webinar