A wholesale review which is expected to slash the Solicitors Regulation Authority Handbook from over 600 pages to nearer 50 may be ‘too much’ for law firms to cope with, the Legal Services Board warned today.
In a progress report on all eight legal services watchdogs, the super-regulator says the ‘direction of the SRA’s travel’ can appear unclear to solicitors. On pruning the handbook, it adds that the SRA ‘will need to consider carefully how it manages the risk’ of overwhelming legal firms (and itself) through such a radical exercise.
One common theme arising during the LSB review of the SRA was a concern that consultation outcomes ‘could lead the profession to question whether their views were adequately taken into account’. Various controversial reforms have progressed in the face of strong initial opposition from practitioners and representative bodies.
According to the board, this view has been amplified by the fact the SRA does not publish responses to its consultations. The frontline regulator has pledged to start publishing responses from next month – at present, it provides only a summary of responses as part of each board paper for decision.
More generally, the board notes that the SRA has made progress in recent years, reflected in the ‘grades’ it has been awarded by the LSB in the areas of risk assessment, enforcement and capability standards. The grades for outcomes-focused regulation and supervision are unchanged on 2012/13, but the board considers that ‘there has been progress in these areas’.
However, a long-awaited IT system for managing the operational functions of the organisation still remains to be implemented.
Paul Philip (pictured), SRA chief executive, said: ‘We welcome this year’s assessment, which reports significant improvement in many areas and shows we are moving in the right direction. We regulate in the public interest, so I am particularly pleased to see the support for our work with consumers, our Question of Trust campaign on professional standards and for our Looking to the Future reforms, which will benefit both the public and the profession.’
He added: ‘We know there is more to do and we are not complacent. For example, we share the LSB frustration at the slow development of appropriate IT systems and continue to work with the Law Society to address this.’
Commenting on the full review of all eight regulators, LSB chair Sir Michael Pitt said the board has seen ’evidence of substantial progress’ since the board first reviewed their performance in late 2012.
He added: ‘The areas where improvements have been made include developing outcomes-focused approaches to regulation, risk-assessment processes and risk-based approaches to supervision. But there is much more that needs to be done. This varies depending on the regulator and we will be working with each of them to develop tailored action plans which address their specific areas of improvement.’