The Solicitors Regulation Authority has apologised to local authorities that went through a ‘horrific journey’ to set up alternative business structures.
Speaking at the Lawyers in Local Government’s weekend school in Exeter, SRA executive director of policy Crispin Passmore (pictured) said applications were now being dealt with in less than three months.
Passmore said: ‘Those of you who went through a horrific journey to become an ABS, I’m sorry and we have learnt.’
Passmore said the SRA was currently talking to ‘lots’ of ABS applicants. Highlighting the organisations it regulates, such as accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and EY, Passmore said ‘there is more to come’.
He said: ‘The SRA made such a hash [of processing applications] in the first few years because it had no idea what was coming. There were lots of new entrants by law firms with such complex structures behind it. Some of the issues in local government were issues we had not had to think about and we made a hash of it.’
Passmore acknowledged the SRA had to ‘get rid of some of the bureaucracy’ in ABS applications.
With corporate owners, for instance, Passmore said the regulator looked at every individual behind the corporate entity. But he said the SRA would make it ‘much quicker to get you up and running’ by approving the entity if the corporate owner was a ‘fit and proper organisation to own a legal services business’.
Passmore also urged councils to make shorter applications. ‘If you send us a lot of information we have to read it and it leads to us asking more questions. Send us less. If we’re not convinced, we will ask further questions.’
Meanwhile the regulator will consult on making changes to the SRA Handbook this autumn, including a ‘fundamental review’ of practice framework rule 4 relating to in-house practice.
Calling the SRA’s rules ‘historic, restrictive, often anti-competitive’, Passmore believed the Handbook could be ‘simplified from 750 pages down to 20’.