Last week marked a major landmark for every solicitor and law firm that we regulate. On 6 October our old, prescriptive rule book became history. With outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) we will focus on the issues that really matter and which suit the fast-paced, modern and liberalised legal services market.
We are very proud of what has been achieved in the past 18 months where we have delivered to a challenging timetable.
From now on, when issues do arise we will work collaboratively with conscientious firms to put things right, but those who will never meet the appropriate standards will be dealt with vigorously.
OFR now becomes business as usual. Let me therefore turn to some of our priorities over the coming months.
Alternative business structures
The delivery of ABSs is the next major milestone. We are working closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that we can begin licensing ABSs from early next year. We, along with many organisations looking to become an ABS offering reserved legal activities, were disappointed that we were unable to start authorising ABSs from 6 October as initially planned, but let us not lose sight of the fact that this will be a momentous event for legal services and the profession.
Legal education and training review
The biggest shakeup of legal education and training since the publication of the Ormrod Report in 1971 is under way. The legal education and training review (LETR), jointly undertaken by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards, is exploring all stages of legal education and training. It is due to report in December 2012.
We are particularly conscious that a review of our approach to continuing professional development (CPD) is long overdue.
Over the next six months we will be embarking on a programme of research which will look at, among other things, complaints and conduct matters to see whether there are any recurrent themes which might be addressed through the CPD scheme. We will also look to other sectors, both home and abroad, to identify best practice in CPD and learn from these approaches. We hope this programme of research will provide us with a good evidence base from which to make decisions about the future of CPD.
Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates
Delivering a robust and credible scheme to ensure the competence and consistency of criminal advocates is a key priority for the SRA. Many valid issues about how the new scheme can be delivered effectively have been raised during the consultation process. We have decided to extend the consultation process until 7 November, to ensure all interested parties have the opportunity to contribute further to the debate.
We are committed to the introduction of a single set of standards for criminal advocates, but the priority is to ensure that this scheme delivers what it is designed to do.
Legal services is increasingly becoming a global industry. The SRA has a crucial role to play in its regulation. We are already looking closely at how we need to position ourselves and the opportunities that lie ahead. Subject to agreement by the board, we will be launching a consultation on our international scope later this year.
We are in the process of taking all our services online with the introduction of mySRA. This will result in valuable time and cost savings for regulated individuals. As happens regularly with similar IT projects of this size, there have been initial problems with the launch of these services and I would like to apologise to those who have experienced difficulties activating their codes.
Let me reassure you that we are ironing out these problems rapidly and working round the clock to do so. More than 50,000 solicitors have successfully activated their accounts. We have extended the deadline to activate codes from 14 October to 31 October. We would ask the profession to be patient. It will be worth it.
Banning referral fees in personal injury claims is high on the political agenda. The government has made it clear that it intends to ban referral fees as part of the legal aid bill, which is likely to become law by the end of the year. It is not yet clear exactly what form this ban will take, but we are working closely with the government, sharing our practical experience in this field and contributing to the debate about the future shape of this ban.
Reserved legal activities
We strongly believe that the current patchwork of regulatory arrangements - in particular, the scope of reserved legal activities - sits uncomfortably with the delivery of legal services and does not match consumer expectation. We welcome the Legal Services Board’s current review and will be making the case for more protection, and more clarity, for consumers.
This has been a most demanding year for the SRA and the profession. There have been many challenges along the way and many more challenges are to come. I would like to thank the profession for embracing OFR and working closely with us to develop a system that is good for firms, good for consumers and good for the SRA, and which provides a sound framework for the future where reform has only just begun.
Charles Plant is chair of the board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority