Outgoing SRA chief executive Antony Townsend has urged the government to resist another immediate overhaul of legal regulation. Townsend, who left his post on Friday after more than seven years, said legal services are ‘best left alone’ in the short term.
The government is reviewing legal regulation and expects to make an announcement later this year.
‘It is no secret we think the current system is not ideal and gives rise to unnecessary difficulties,’ Townsend told the Gazette. ‘[But] The worst thing that could happen is further tinkering – there is a strong argument to say “give the system longer to run and give it more time”. The SRA and Law Society need further shake-ups like a hole in the head – let’s give it a bit longer and make it work.’
Townsend (pictured) said the SRA had achieved much in its formative years, including an overhaul of IT systems, the ending of the assigned risks pool, cutting unnecessary regulation and saving the profession ‘millions of pounds’ through intervention work on firms’ financial stability.
‘The regulation of firms now is considerably more robust and the resolution processes are much better. Safeguards now exist which were not there 10 years ago. We had a lot of change happening in a relatively concentrated period. Change always brings some cost. This coincided with some really big economic issues for the profession.
‘It was very tough and I have a lot of sympathy for firms struggling after the crash and competing with ABSs – they had to adapt, which put quite a big burden on people. It will be worth it in the long term.’
Townsend’s successor will face a number of challenges, not least the continued effects of legal aid and fee cuts for small firms, which are already facing competition from new entrants.
‘We can’t protect firms from the market,’ Townsend said. ‘We can show we are making sure everyone is delivering high standards.
‘For the high street, the fact they are being effectively regulated is a marketing tool. They can say they are not cowboys.’