SRA launches dialogue with solicitors over future of regulation

Freedom in practice logo"Freedom in Practice" campaign will engage practitioners on outcomes-focused regulation and alternative business structures.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has today announced its biggest ever consultation exercise over the once-in-a-generation changes to the regulation of the legal sector and solicitors' practices scheduled to take effect from October 2011.

The campaign, entitled "Freedom in Practice: Better Outcomes for Consumers", will see the SRA enter a comprehensive dialogue with solicitors in England and Wales on the coming changes to the way they are regulated.

Outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) will be a risk-based regulatory regime based on core principles and the high-level outcomes firms must achieve. This will allow the freedom to innovate, at the same time as providing a strong focus on the quality of the services provided to clients, which will be good for clients and practitioners alike. It will minimise petty bureaucracy, and concentrate on what really matters.

This will come into effect at the same time as alternative business structures (ABSs). Permitted under the 2007 Legal Services Act, ABSs will be a new way of providing legal services which will enable lawyers and non-lawyers to share the management and control of the business providing those services.

"Freedom in Practice: Better Outcomes for Consumers" will be centred on a series of consultations. The first, to take place in late April, will look at the broad context of OFR and regulatory practice. The second will be on the new draft regulatory handbook, including licensing rules for ABSs and the new Code of Conduct. This document will be published on 28 May 2010.

Throughout May and June the SRA will hold a series of roadshows around England and Wales to help practitioners and managers to understand and explore the impact of the changes on their practices, and to enable their views to be reflected in the SRA's decision-making process. The events will be free to attend, and will be accredited for CPD points.

At the same time the SRA will work with consumer organisations to ensure that the consumer's voice is heard throughout the consultation, and to promote understanding of the proposed changes.

All practitioners and others with an interest in the legal services market will be able to attend the following roadshows:

  • Tues 25 May – London
  • Wed 26 May – Cardiff
  • Thurs 27 May – Bristol
  • Tues 8 June – Leeds
  • Wed 9 June – Manchester
  • Thurs 10 June – Liverpool
  • Tues 15 June – Birmingham
  • Wed 16 June – Cambridge
  • Tues 22 June – Exeter
  • Thurs 24 June – Newcastle

The roadshows will kick off with an introduction to OFR from a senior SRA representative, and will provide a chance to discuss the changes, and how these will affect consumers, individual practitioners and their firms. Breakout sessions tailored to the needs of high street and commercial practices will be run.

The consultation and roadshows will be backed up by an interactive website area, providing resources and the opportunity for solicitors to put their questions to the SRA. One of the roadshows will be selected for live video streaming, and will be accessible online.

OFR will also deliver a strong risk-based regulatory focus on making sure firms deliver the right outcomes to consumers. OFR means a more grown-up relationship between firms and the SRA for those firms willing to work with the SRA to deliver good legal services to clients. These firms will benefit from greater flexibility. However, firms who are unwilling or unable to engage with the SRA to deliver good outcomes will face tough sanctions.

SRA Chair Charles Plant said: "The SRA's mission is to transform regulation for the benefit of consumers. A simplified rulebook and freedom to practise innovatively will be good for clients and practitioners alike.

'Freedom in Practice' is the profession's opportunity to engage with the development of the new regulatory environment. The SRA is listening, and wants to hear the profession's views.

"I urge all solicitors and others working in solicitors' firms to attend our national roadshows, or to engage with the consultation online."

Charles Plant added: "Under the new regime, the SRA's regulation will be targeted and risk based. Firms who do the right thing will be given more discretion to deliver their business in the way that suits their clients' needs best. But those who flout the professional principles will face tough sanctions.

"We want to have a new and improved relationship with firms, proportionate and focused on the right result for clients.

"A free and flexible market will have an increased focus on consumer needs. Flexibility, not lower standards, will be the keynote. We will act flexibly in our regulatory dealings, reducing cost and improving effectiveness."

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