News

Higher standards, shorter handbook

We have published the second phase of changes to our rules to make them simpler and more focused on high standards.

This is set to reduce the length of the Handbook by more than 300 pages. We have already consulted on the first phase of changes to create a simpler Code of Conduct and accounts rules.

We are now consulting on other rules, including how we approve firms, and assess the suitability of those entering the profession. Our current Handbook - at around 440 pages - is long complex and costly to apply.

This second phase completes the process of stripping out unnecessary bureaucracy and focusing on what matters: high professional standards and legal services that people can access and trust. The new Handbook is set to be around 130 pages and would keep rules that help maintain high professional standards, such as the need for compliance officers in all firms.

Getting rid of unnecessary rules

However, it would get rid of some restrictive rules that add cost without sufficient public benefit. Changes include removing:

  • the need for early checks on students and trainees, so that character and suitability testing is focussed on point of entry to the profession
  • the need for a solicitor owner or manager to seek our approval before moving firms or roles. In future, they will inform us
  • the, often misunderstood, rules around being ‘qualified to supervise’, which do not provide any guarantee of competence, but prevent solicitors establishing their own firms once they have qualified.

We have also proposed allowing a solicitor to provide reserved legal services - in certain circumstances - on a freelance basis to the public. They would not be able to hold client money or employ people, but would need appropriate indemnity insurance.

This would simplify the current situation where there is a complex series of exemptions for solicitors who want to work in areas such as certain insurance services, law centres and doing pro bono. Other changes aim to make the Handbook easier to use.

For instance, the details of how people can appeal our decisions are now all grouped in one place.

A revised enforcement policy

The consultation also includes a revised enforcement policy. It is essential that both the public and the profession can have confidence that we hold solicitors to account and act in a fair way. The policy aims to provide more clarity about how, and when, we will, or will not, enforce.

Factors it would take account of when considering action include intent, harm caused, patterns of behaviour, vulnerability of the client, seniority of the solicitor, and any remedial action taken. The policy reflects the findings of our "Question of Trust" campaign which collected the views of 5,400 members of the public and profession.

In keeping with the results, we will continue to treat offences such as misuse of client money, dishonesty and criminal activities as the most serious.

SQE transitional arrangements

The consultation also includes proposals for transitional arrangement for the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). This is set to be introduced in autumn 2020. All those starting the qualification process from then onwards must take the SQE.

However, we want to make sure that those who have started the process of qualification through the current routes have a fair opportunity to complete it. They will have until 2031 to qualify this way.

The consultation Looking to the future: phase two of our Handbook reforms runs until 20 December.

Learn more about the consultation