Regulators today invited solicitors and firms to apply for waivers to get round rules that may be stifling innovation. The Solicitors Regulation Authority gave the green light for an increased ‘safe space’ for practitioners wanting to push the boundaries through new ideas.
The proposal, which was consulted on last year, will include safeguards to ensure public protection but will simplify the existing waiver process and make the criteria clearer for applying for an exemption.
The SRA will also publish any waivers to make sure the process is fair and transparent and will compile an annual innovation report to make sure decisions are being made consistently.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: ‘Most people supported our proposals to get out of the way of businesses that want to offer legal services in different ways. We have trialled our proposed approach through our SRA Innovate initiative, which provides a safe space for firms to try new services, with good results. Changing how we manage and publish waivers will also help firms, while making sure that the public is protected.’
Last year the regulator said waivers were expected to be granted on a ‘rare few occasions in relatively limited situations’ but firms with agreements from the SRA will be guaranteed not to face enforcement action.
Before granting a waiver, the applicant will need to show its plan is compatible with regulatory objectives to protect and promote the public interest, as well as improve access to justice, and that there is no other way for them to achieve the objective.
Solicitors and firms are already able to request waivers for some regulations, but the SRA said that greater flexibility for this system would help to improve access to legal services at affordable prices.
Only seven submissions were made to the consultation, including from firms DAS Law, Riverview Law and Shentons Solicitors, and representative groups The Law Society and Liverpool Law Society.
The Law Society said this was an ‘interesting’ proposal which needed more detail on how criteria would be implemented and any research that had been undertaken. Riverview Law said the no enforcement action tool was a ‘creative, measured and appropriate mechanism’ aimed at creating the right environment for innovation. Another respondent expressed concern that the policy amounted to deregulation ‘through the backdoor’.
The SRA announced that it will run events in Cambridge, Bristol and Newcastle over the summer to help firms interested in the scheme.