The Solicitors Regulation Authority is taking an average of seven months to license an alternative business structure, and 20% of applications have taken longer than nine months to process.
Schedule 11 of the Legal Services Act prescribes that the decision period must be six months from the date an application is made, in accordance with the SRA Authorisation Rules. The regulator may, with advance notice, extend this time frame provided the total decision period does not exceed nine months.
So, presumably, the SRA is in breach of the rules? Not exactly. From a careful reading of rules 2 and 5, one will observe that the six-month decision period does not commence until the applicant has: a) submitted the stage 2 application; b) responded to any further queries the SRA has in relation to the application; and c) paid the appropriate fee.
However, in assessing the application and deciding whether or not there are any further questions arising from the information submitted, the SRA is not subject to any timescales. The regulator is therefore at liberty to request the fee and trigger the six-month clock whenever it chooses. And if the applicant has provided answers to all further questions, why does the SRA need another six to nine months?
Despite criticising the SRA and pointing out that the Legal Services Act requires the end-to-end application process to be completed within nine months, the LSB is apparently going to give the SRA ‘the space it needs’ to address the issues. Perhaps the super-regulator should instead be asking the SRA why its rules are inconsistent with the Legal Services Act and prejudicial to applicants.
Adam Entwistle, Weightmans, Liverpool