Sorry, but the SRA is right

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I want you to sit down and take a deep breath. Perhaps have a stiff drink to hand. Maybe one of those stress balls too. I’m going to write something in support of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Before I start let me make it clear I’m no apologist for the organisation – indeed I’m fairly sure they didn’t appreciate my fairly one-sided response to their (still wrong) decision to scrap the trainee minimum salary.

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Any story on the SRA is guaranteed to lead to dozens of angry responses from solicitors in a daze at the constant announcements and tweaks leaving them bemused at what exactly they have to do to avoid breaking the rules. And don’t get me started on the monthly board meetings, when the ‘public’ session consists of 15 minutes of being told nothing of any real use. One rare solicitor visitor last week walked away bemused, asking why she hadn’t been allowed to speak, forgetting that the public are to be seen but not heard.

And yet I believe the regulator is right to want the power to fine firms that can’t meet deadlines, as outlined at last week’s meeting. The trigger for this plea is the ongoing issue with dozens, maybe hundreds, of firms that have yet to nominate a pair of compliance officers pithily dubbed the COLPs and COFAs.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no way I would want to perform either role. As far as I can see, you’re in trouble with your colleague if you tell tales of non-compliance and in trouble with the SRA if you don’t. It’s a thankless task and unpaid to boot. But despite most having reservations, thousands of firms did get their nominations back before the 31 July deadline.

They canvassed opinion in the office, read through the smallprint and filled out the forms. This was laborious, tedious and most probably took them away from actually earning money.

For those that sat on their hands, wilfully ignored the regulations or simply couldn’t be bothered, why should they escape having to go through the process as well? They may have spent the time earning fees whilst their competitors slavishly adhered to the regulations. Yes, so this request for more power looks like empire-building. Yes there are probably other things they should be prioritising.

But rules are rules – and while you may not agree with the principle, it’s ultimately unfair on the firms that did comply not to sanction those that did not.

On this one issue at least, I’m with the SRA. Now please don’t swear at me.

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