A leader of the Solicitors Regulation Authority has assured solicitors that the regulator will not seek to punish every mistake in the reformed compliance regime.
SRA general counsel Juliet Oliver told a conference today that the organisation is keenly aware that law firm owners face a number of pressures in running their business and do not want to live in fear of the regulator.
The regulator is in the process of slashing the length of the solicitors handbook and reducing the number of rules for practitioners. During any period of flux, Oliver said, the SRA will not seek to punish firms that may make mistakes or breach rules while they are adjusting to the changes.
Oliver told the SRA's trust conference in London that firms should focus on getting their 'core standards right’ while the SRA sets about reducing what she called the ‘burden of compliance culture’.
'When we get a complaint or concern what we need to do is look at whether that behaviour or conduct presents a risk to the public interest rather than this blanket approach to compliance where a broken rule equals a process which is very stressful and creates a huge amount of anxiety.'
The approach was questioned by former Law Society president Linda Lee, who said previous attempts to simplify the rules in other professions have led to greater difficulty for regulators and those they regulate.
Oliver denied that consumers will be less protected by a less prescriptive approach to regulation and insisted consumers will not be at risk.
Meanwhile, the SRA has revealed in its annual report for the 2015/16 year that 30,000 solicitors contacted its ethic guidance helpline during the year, most commonly with enquiries about confidentiality and disclosure.
Where misconduct was found, 65 rebukes or reprimands were issued - up from 37 the years before - and the number of fines increased from 15 in 2014/15 to 42 in 2015/16.
The regulator has reduced the average time it takes to conclude disciplinary investigations by 16%, from 102 days in September 2014 to 86 days in September 2016.
The speed at which the SRA authorises alternative business structures has improved, from 111 days in 2013/14 to 69 days last year.