The SRA Handbook refers to the profession as a ‘regulated community’, which is an interesting way of putting it. Yes, we would agree we are regulated – some would say over-regulated – but I am not sure about ‘community’.
In fact, the trend continues to be a relaxation of rules, not an extension. In 2011, the SRA moved on from a rules-based tick-box approach to regulation, and introduced an outcomes-focused regime. Anyone in practice will recognise the array of different bodies with varying requirements with which we deal: LAA, SQM, Lexcel, banks, SRA, indemnity insurers. I wonder if the profession understands the interplay between the different bodies that are involved in regulation?
The authors make the valid point that firms need to ensure that all staff are trained on requirements of the handbook. How we do that is for us to decide. The book contains all the rules, the code and a lot more. It is clear, concise and comprehensive, including changes to authorisation of sole practitioners. It is also reasonably priced – when you consider the consequences of getting things wrong.
There have been changes since the last edition. The requirement that a solicitor may not practise as a sole practitioner unless they had a ‘sole solicitor endorsement’ on their practising certificate was removed. The requirements on the submission of accountants’ reports have been relaxed. Accountants will no longer need to qualify accounts for trivial breaches of the rules, but instead can focus on risks to client money.
There have also been changes to the separate business rule, together with a new approach to training and alteration of the ABS rules, as well as other amendments.
How does the ‘regulated community’ keep up to date and deliver that knowledge to colleagues? Not an easy thing. It was ever thus, I suppose, and it is in our interests to maintain the highest standards.
SRA Handbook: November 2015 edition
£39.95, Law Society Publishing
Which brings me to the second book – The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal: Law and Practice – written by two experienced and knowledgeable practitioners. It is more expensive and possibly a volume that is most likely to be read in extremis. It is the first and apparently only book on this topic, which is surprising given the tribunal’s wide-ranging powers. We all read the Gazette reports of SDT findings and possibly experience relief it is not us (or maybe even schadenfreude).
Perhaps we have a slight fear that we will be struck off without anyone telling us! The person who faces allegations is likely to want to know what will happen to them and the likely penalty. The book deals with that issue. Hopefully, most of us will not gain first-hand experience of the tribunal, but we all need to have a detailed knowledge of what can go wrong and why.
The facts that we have a tribunal that is independent and fair, and practitioners who are knowledgeable in its ways and adhere to the high standards which the public rightly expects, are to be applauded. This is an interesting and well-written book.
The Solicitors DisciplinaryTribunal: Law and Practice
Authors: Nigel West and Susanna Heley
£125, Law Society Publishing
David Pickup is a partner at Pickup and Scott Solicitors