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SRA publishes latest monitoring figures

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has published its equality monitoring data report for 2010 for key areas of its regulatory activity. The report includes complaints made about solicitors' conduct, the number of practising certificate conditions imposed - and at the more serious end of the scale - the numbers of individuals referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) and firms closed down through intervention.

The statistics reveal that the total number of individuals identified in new conduct matters reported to the SRA has reduced by 62 per cent, down to 1,558 compared to 4,059 in 2009. A higher-than-expected proportion of these are about male solicitors, solicitors over 40 and solicitors from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) background.

This, in part, explains the disproportionate outcomes found for these groups across the areas covered by the report. Some of the key findings are:

  •  There was no disproportionality between BME and white solicitors in the conduct cases upheld by the SRA during 2010, as was the case in 2009
  • There was a slight increase in the number of individuals* who had practising conditions applied, 684 as compared to 679 in 2009. Of these, in 2010 29 per cent (168) were BME solicitors, and 80 per cent (546) were male, a similar pattern to the figures for 2009 (32 per cent BME and 80 per cent male)
  • There was a reduction in the total number of individuals referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in 2010 (311 compared to 451 in 2009). There remains a disproportionate number of BME solicitors and male solicitors referred each year. In 2010, 31 per cent (77) of referred individuals were BME and 79 per cent (247) male, compared to 34 per cent BME individuals and 78 per cent males in 2009
  • There was a 39 per cent reduction in the total number of solicitors subject to intervention (closing down), from 127 in 2009 to 78 in 2010** which reflects the emphasis placed by the SRA on firm-based regulation and efforts being made to work more closely with firms to bring about closure without having to pursue a costly intervention
  • These 78 intervened individuals in 2010 includes a disproportionate number of BME solicitors (25 or 38 per cent) and male solicitors (59 or 76 per cent). The 127 individuals in 2009, were 33 per cent BME and 86 per cent male. The 78 individuals in 2010 were partners in 65 firms, all of which were one and two-partner firms. This may in part account for the disproportionality for BME solicitors who are over-represented in one and two-partner firms

Antony Townsend, SRA Chief Executive, stressed the importance of maintaining the SRA's work in tackling unexplained patterns of disproportionality. He said: "After publishing the report we commissioned from Pearn Kandola*** in July 2010 about disproportionate outcomes for BME solicitors, we have worked hard to examine and audit key areas of our regulatory decision-making. We will be publishing a report of our progress on this before the end of the year."

The SRA will be monitoring very carefully how its new approach to regulation will affect these patterns of disproportionality. In the past, the SRA's work tended to focus on smaller firms, which in turn explains at least some of the disproportionate focus on BME solicitors, who are statistically over represented in one and two-partner firms. The SRA's focus is now guided by its new risk framework which is likely to involve an increased supervisory focus on larger firms where some of the higher impact risks may lie.

Antony Townsend said: "This focus may in turn bring about a change in the patterns of disproportionality apparent from our regulatory enforcement work. Our commitment to fair and proportionate regulation free from discrimination is a priority under the new regime and we will be closely monitoring our regulatory work as we make the transition.

"The SRA has also published its last annual report covering discrimination complaints received about the profession under Rule 6 of the old Code of Conduct. There was a fall in the number of discrimination complaints reported to the SRA in 2010, from 213 in 2009 to 139 in 2010 - the first time since 2006 that there has been a reduction against the previous year.

This may reflect improved performance in the profession as a result of the work the SRA has done to raise awareness of the requirements of Rule 6. However, the SRA considers that there is still much room for improvement and since 6 October 2011 those we regulate are subject to the new Principle 9 requiring them to operate in a way that 'encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity'.

Commenting on the future, Antony Townsend said: "We hope to work in partnership with firms to help them improve their approach to equality and diversity to ensure that they are delivering the appropriate equality outcomes for their clients and for their employees."

The reports can be found here.


Note to editors

* In 2009, there were 112,589 Practising Certificate holders; in 2010 the number was 117,802.

** The total number of solicitors' firms in 2009 was 10,958; in 2010 the number was 10,961.

*** In an effort to understand the reasons for the disproportionate involvement of equality groups in some of the SRA's processes, the SRA commissioned Pearn Kandola, a group of business psychologists who specialise in the area of diversity, to research and establish the cause of the disproportionality of regulatory actions taken against black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors. Pearn Kandola published its findings in July 2010.  

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