Ensuring that the 2012 round of practising certificate (PC) renewals is a smoother and more reliable experience than last year’s has been top of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s agenda. We recognise that the last renewals round caused serious inconvenience for many who engaged in the process and this was not acceptable. Mistakes were made and lessons needed to be learned rapidly.

Since then we have undertaken an enormous amount of work to enhance the system. We were not prepared to launch the renewals exercise or confirm final dates until we were confident that the system was stable and the planned enhancements had been implemented. This has been achieved and we have announced that the 2012 round of PC renewals will commence on 1 November and close on 14 December. This will give firms two weeks longer than the traditional one-month period allowed for completion of renewal applications, to assist firms in scheduling the process.

Working with a large number of representatives from firms to identify the changes required has been key to the improvements we have introduced. From sole practitioners to those working in large global firms, we have listened to your views and used this feedback to decide how best to reshape the system in a way that is practical for all branches of the profession. Because of time constraints, it has not been possible to include all the changes that we would have liked this year, but we have prioritised the issues to ensure we addressed those that mattered most to those we regulate. These include:

  • Making applications easier to complete. This includes an overhaul of the flow and wording of questions and related guidance text.
  • Making it possible for organisational contacts in each firm to process the bulk of applications on behalf of colleagues, giving firms greater control over the way they complete the PC renewal exercise.
  • Enabling one-click ‘record complete’, allowing multiple records to be confirmed as correct during bulk renewal applications.
  • Improved searching and sorting of an individual’s records to make viewing and editing easier.
  • Increasing the support available within our contact centre so that queries can be answered more promptly.

Allowing an organisational contact to process an organisation’s bulk renewal was a request put to us repeatedly and we have introduced this. An authorised signatory in a firm is now able to nominate an individual eligible to sign an organisation’s bulk renewal application and access the organisation’s details. This can be a solicitor or registered European lawyer who holds the post of partner or equivalent. The organisation’s authorised signatory and organisation contact will be able to view and print the individual’s practising and registration certificates.

We are also communicating extensively with all firms to ensure that those we regulate are aware of the changes and know how to process their applications. All organisational contacts and authorised signatories have been supplied with information and links to help them prepare for processing applications, including a link to the questions that will need completing. We will also communicate with everyone who has activated a mySRA account, through our e-newsletter, SRA Update, to alert everyone to the changes. Answers to a comprehensive range of frequently asked questions are available on the website and we plan to schedule a webinar. This will guide applicants through the bulk renewal process.

PCs for 2011/12 will remain in force from 1 November. If you need to verify that your current certificate is still valid, a validation letter is available, signed by the chief executive. Please call the contact centre on 0870 606 2555 and we can provide a copy of this letter.

I believe we have a system that will make the 2012 renewals process more streamlined and efficient. This does not mean it is perfect. We will continue to improve our online systems and move more application services online during 2013, in full consultation with the regulated community.

Full details of the renewals exercise can be found on our website.

Charles Plant is chair of the board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority