SRA Update

Issue 26 – October 2012

In brief

Keeping of the roll

The keeping of the roll exercise is now underway. It is a paper-based exercise, not online as previously planned. By now everyone eligible to stay on the roll should have received a letter and application form from the SRA. If you have not received this communication, please call or email the Contact Centre.

There will be a fee of £20 for this year only, which will cover both 2011 and 2012. Completed forms and payments have to be made by 16 November otherwise individuals' names will be removed from the roll of solicitors.

No fee is payable under regulation 6 of the Keeping of the Roll Regulations (2011) by a solicitor whose name has been on the roll for 50 years or more.

LETR Discussion paper, Provocations and Perspectives

The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) research team has launched its third discussion paper.

The team, conducting the most comprehensive review of legal education and training in a generation, has published the paper entitled Provocations and Perspectives.

It recommends that the research team should look to "invent the future of legal education and training" through the innovative use of new technology and the emergence of new roles, instead of merely improving existing models.

The research team, led by Professor Julian Webb, will present its findings by the end of the year to the Bar Standards Board, ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) and ourselves.

All three of the discussion papers are available at LETR Briefing and discussion papers, while further information on the review is available at letr.org.uk.

Referral fees

The Government's proposed ban on referral fees in personal injury cases is due to come into effect in April next year. The ban will be introduced as part of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

We've already started the debate on implementing the ban with a discussion paper published in the summer. The issues involved in the referral fee ban are by no means as clear cut as you'd think and our discussion paper laid out what we thought were the key points to clarify.

We received a number of responses and these will help us as we draw up a formal policy ready for a full consultation later this month.

You can find the discussion paper on our website at www.sra.org.uk/referralban.

Any changes made to the regulatory framework will come into effect in April 2013.

OFR, one-year on

Saturday 6 October marks a year since we introduced outcomes-focused regulation. There have been many milestones since this huge shift in our approach and we'll be sharing these with you in the next edition of SRA Update.

Among these details, we'll share information on the research we are carrying out on the impact of OFR. This will include identifying the impact of OFR on the regulated community and setting a baseline from which future impacts can be measured.

The project involves some firms being contacted by our contracted market research company, IFF Research, over the coming weeks for a short telephone interview. There will be 1,000 firms contacted in all, selected on a random basis. Firms' participation will be confidential and all responses will be anonymous and reported as aggregated statistics only.


Consultations

Cooperation Agreements Policy

This policy will decide on potential agreed outcomes for those who have breached the Code of Conduct, but then disclose their and others' misconduct. A key objective of the policy is to enable us to receive information that will help us to take public protection action when necessary.

If the policy is adopted, we would enter into cooperation agreements with possible witnesses who might also be in some regulatory difficulties. They would provide full disclosure and, if necessary, give live evidence in a court or tribunal. Their own conduct would be dealt with as part of the agreement.

The consultation will be launched in the coming weeks.

QASA (Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates)

The purpose of this fourth consultation is to set out the revisions made to the scheme following the last consultation in November and as a result of further discussions with all interested parties, including the judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Criminal Bar Association and the Solicitors Association for Higher Court Advocates. We also want to seek views on the practicalities of the scheme.

QASA is a scheme that will be run by the Joint Advocacy Group (JAG) (consisting of the Bar Standards Board, ILEX Professional Standards (IPS), and ourselves). It will introduce a uniform system of accreditation for criminal advocacy work in the Magistrates and Crown Courts.

Its aim is to protect and promote the public interest, and that of consumers, in ensuring that all those undertaking criminal advocacy are competent to do so.

JAG is committed to the introduction of the Scheme early in 2013 with a review to take place after two years of operation. The focus of the consultation is on issues not previously covered or those which have been altered since the last consultation. These include arrangements for accreditation at Level 2; the levels within the Scheme (including Youth Court work) and phased implementation.

The consultation closes on Tuesday, 9 October.

For further information, go to www.sra.org.uk/consultations.

Webinars

Short on time? Need to catch up on what's going on in regulation? Then sign up for our free lunchtime webinars—you don't have to move from your office, and you get CPD points too!

Our webinars, which last for an hour, continue to be very popular and that's probably true for the next one we'll be holding, which will be on PC renewals.

Details are being finalised, so go to www.sra.org.uk/webinars.

Social media

SRA YouTube channel subscribers receive email alerts when we publish new video clips.

We also alert our Twitter followers when we release clips on YouTube. More than 7,000 of you already follow us on Twitter.

mySRA PC renewals: Important information for individuals

Our 2012 renewals exercise for practising certificates (PCs), registrations for registered European lawyers (RELs) and registered foreign lawyers (RFLs) and authorisations for sole practitioners will start on 1 November 2012 and run until 14 December 2012.

For PC holders, RELs and RFLs who have "opted in" to their organisation's bulk renewal

If you chose to opt into your organisation's bulk renewal application, your organisation will apply and pay for your PC for 2012/2013, on your behalf. If you were opted into your organisation for last year (2011/2012), you will be automatically opted into this year's renewal.

Your PC renewal application will be completed by your organisation's nominated Organisation Contact (ORC) and the Authorised Signatory (AUS).

As a result of feedback we received from last year's bulk renewal exercise, we have made a number of improvements to the application process and introduced some significant policy changes to the bulk renewal process, in particular to allow the ORC and AUS more control over individuals' data. Please see our more detailed explanation of what "opt in" now means for you as part of a bulk renewal application. It is important that you read this carefully.

If you are an ORC or an AUS, you should have already received an email from us setting out the changes in detail. The FAQs will be of interest to individuals as well as ORCs and AUS.

For individuals who have not opted in to their organisation's bulk renewal

If you chose not to opt in to your organisation's bulk renewal, please note that you will need to

  • complete an individual practising certificate or registration renewal application yourself via mySRA, and
  • pay for it online.
Validity of PCs and registration

Please note that until your new PC/registration or authorisation as a sole practitioner is issued your existing PC/registration or authorisation remains valid.

A validation letter is available, signed by the SRA's Chief Executive, which confirms that PCs, registrations and authorisations will remain in force from 1 November 2012, on the proviso that individuals submit their renewal application by 14 December 2012. Please contact us and we can provide a copy of this letter.

To access your details, you will need to log onto mySRA and go to "My profile". Please note that due to enable crucial maintenance work to take place, mySRA will not be available on the following dates:

  • 6, 7, 8, and 9 October,
  • 13, 14 October,
  • 27, 28, 29 and 30 October.

We've moved to The Cube

The SRA has moved its headquarters to The Cube in Birmingham.

There were previously two sites for Midlands staff: Ipsley Court in Redditch and Tachbrook Court in Warwick. By moving to The Cube, we can work more efficiently in purpose-built surroundings.

Our telephone number and email contact details have not changed but our postal address and overseas number has.

From 1 October it will be: The Cube, 199 Wharfside, Birmingham B1 1RN and +44 (0)121 329 6800.

We also have an office in London at 24 Martin Lane EC4R 0DR.

COLPs and COFAs update

We've been making steady progress with the appointment of the key posts of compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) and compliance officer for finance and administration (COFA).

COLPs and COFAs will be a focal point in ensuring that the 11,000 or so practices in England and Wales have appropriate systems and controls in place to comply with our new regulatory requirements. Over the next two weeks, we expect to approve the first tranche of COLPs and COFAs, who have been subject to verification of their suitability using predominantly automated checking of our data.

This is likely to number several thousands of approvals. We are also already engaging with those firms which have either disclosed suitability issues for their proposed COLP or COFA, or where those nominated are completely unknown to us.

We will be scrutinising some nominations in greater detail where the nominating firm has had issues flagged up by the SRA's risk-based assessment of the nominated individual, or the firm itself. One hundred and fifty firms will also be randomly selected to take part in a scrutiny exercise to test the validity of self-declaration as a regulatory process.

Andrew Garbutt, Director of Risk, said: "The risk-based approval process has been adopted to ensure the right people take on the position of COLP or COFA. These roles are expected to play an important part in outcomes-focused regulation.

"These individuals will help build a firm-wide culture of compliance; compliance will not just be a matter for them, but for everyone within the firm."

New Year, new responsibilities

The authorisation of COLPs and COFAs should be completed by 31 December 2012, ahead of the officers taking up their new responsibilities on 1 January 2013. If firms have not nominated by 1 January they will be in breach of the regulations and we can revoke their licence and take disciplinary action.

More than 90 per cent of all firms had nominated their COLP and COFA by the 31 July 2012 deadline; and by mid-September only around 600 had failed to start the process. This week, we will have to consider moving from constructive engagement to enforcement action against those who have not yet nominated their compliance officers.

Andrew Garbutt said: "We're enormously encouraged by the response but the small number of firms who have not yet nominated their COLP/COFA must do so now. We have sent three reminders and we will be following up with firms over the next few weeks. Nominating a COLP and COFA is a regulatory requirement and we will have to take disciplinary action if firms do not comply."

Further information on COLPs and COFAs and OFR is available at www.sra.org.uk/complianceofficers.

Conveyancing strategy

Rising numbers of claims on the Solicitors Compensation Fund caused by mortgage fraud cases have been a contributory factor in our decision to propose higher increases than we would like for fund contributions in the coming year.

Analysis of mortgage fraud claims against the fund has revealed a risk posed by an escalating number of claims over the last two years. We have proposed the higher contributions to ensure sufficient funds are available to reimburse clients who have lost out due to solicitor dishonesty.

Antony Townsend, Chief Executive, said: "That fees have to rise to cover the fraudulent activities of a small group of solicitors is very unwelcome and we share the frustrations of the profession. It's disappointing that the vast majority has to pay extra for the dishonest actions of a very small minority.

"Unfortunately, this is the situation we find ourselves in and the Compensation Fund needs to be of a sufficient size to ensure consumers do not suffer financial loss."

New strategy to help firms

We are formulating a conveyancing strategy to help firms keep instances of mortgage fraud to a minimum. The strategy will seek to provide further help to those firms involved in conveyancing work to spot suspicious activity.

The practising certificate fee for 2012/13 will increase from £328 to £344. The Compensation Fund contribution for individuals will rise from £60 to £92. The contribution for firms will rise from £722 to £1,340.

Practising certificate fees for 2011/12 reduced by around a fifth last year, dropping from £440 in 2010/11. The Compensation Fund contributions did rise from a low base level of around £10 for individuals and £120 for firms.

Mike Jeacock, Executive Director for Operations, said: "We recognise it is essential to keep the costs of regulating effectively and protecting the public interest to the minimum and our net funding requirement for 2013 has reduced. This increase in Compensation Fund fees follows a period of historically low fees. It is necessary to ensure that we have sufficient funds to cover predicted claims, and to minimise the likelihood of us having to seek further funding in-year, once firms' budgets have been set."

Next year's fees are due to be paid between 1 November and 14 December and a fees calculator is available to help firms plan ahead.

The Law Society Council and Legal Services Board have now ratified our fees for the year 2012/13.

Equality and diversity thematic supervision pilot

We are starting a new thematic pilot project focusing on firms' adherence to Principle 9—relating to how they are delivering their equality and diversity obligations in practice.

The pilot will also include an evaluation of how firms are responding to the Legal Services Board's (LSB) Diversity Data Transparency Requirement launched this summer with a deadline for submission of information by 31 October 2012. The data transparency requirement is an integral indicative behaviour within Principle 9.

Starting this month, 100 randomly selected firms across England and Wales will be contacted by our Supervision team to arrange visits, sometimes accompanied by colleagues from Diversity and Inclusion, to find out both how they are meeting their responsibilities in this area, and how we can offer support.

Drawing on the expertise of staff from across the organisation, we will look at discussing challenges a firm may face, identify benchmarks for measuring and understanding compliance with Principle 9, and the outcomes in Chapter 2 of the Code of Conduct. During the visits they plan to

  • use the SRA's resources effectively to maximise engagement with firms on raising awareness and developing effective data collection and reporting systems
  • build on the work already started this year through a series of events held for the profession to focus on this issue
  • give the SRA an opportunity to work across themes which are interlinked, such as helping vulnerable consumers understand their rights with regard to legal services
  • discuss what the SRA could do to improve regulation and promotion of equality and diversity issues

Mehrunnisa Lalani, Director of Inclusion, said: "This project builds on the findings from the old Rule 6 complaints, and our initial supervision pilot which focused in the main on the diversity transparency requirement and ran from January to September. This thematic pilot will enable us to carry out targeted work we need to do with firms on meeting their equality and diversity duties.

We will then establish how firms are managing the requirement to collect diversity data, the reasons why some are not collecting it and why some are experiencing difficulties. As a result, we will be able to assess what support and guidance firms need to comply and identify key issues and good practice.

"In the continually changing legal services market, firms who have in place sound quality and diversity practices should find it easier to attract a diverse applicant and client base."

Authorisation and regulation of sole practice

We're changing our approach to the authorisation of, and to certain aspects of how we regulate, sole practitioner firms.

Currently, solicitor sole practice is authorised annually by means of a sole solicitor endorsement on the solicitor's practising certificate (PC). By contrast, all other firms are subject to initial authorisation, and are then granted unlimited "licences" to practise.

There are also currently undesirable differences in the way we can take certain regulatory action against a sole practitioner firm, compared with other firms. For example, using the proposed new powers, if the SRA considers that it is contrary to the public interest to permit an individual, unqualified employee in a sole practitioner firm to undertake certain work (e.g. will writing), we would be able to act in a proportionate and targeted manner, by placing a condition on the firm's authorisation to prevent that firm from allowing the individual to undertake will writing services. This contrasts with the steps currently available to us, which would be to place a condition of the sole practitioner principal's PC.

We want to harmonise the regulatory regimes.

A better system for sole practitioners

Overall, sole practitioner firms are expected to benefit from the removal of the requirement for annual renewal of "licences". There will, for example, be easier transition when changing composition of firm, and easier transition from one business type to another.

Harmonising the authorisation process and regulatory regimes will help us to work more efficiently, and in the long term will help keep costs down for both sole practitioner firms and for the SRA.

It's important that there is an effective and consistent approach to the authorisation and regulation of all firms, whether they are sole practices, partnerships or incorporated practices. This change will allow us to extend our firm based regulatory approach to sole practitioners—allowing us to focus any necessary action on the firm itself, not just on the PC of the sole practitioner.

Legal changes review

Legislative changes need to be made before we can follow this new approach. We expect that the Legal Services Board (LSB) will publish a consultation paper in October/November 2012 concerning the making of the necessary legislative changes. Under the current timetable these legislative changes should be in place in June 2013. Keep an eye on the LSB's website.

Note that existing sole practitioner firms will normally be "passported" into the new regime. For new firms, check on our website for updates.

Please check our latest e-newsletter SRA update and visit our website for the latest news.

We have been working on these changes for some time. We consulted the profession and other stakeholders in December 2010. See the findings of our consultation Sole practice: modernising authorisation.

We want your views

We are keen to hear from sole practitioners with your views on the effect these changes may have on you. We don't anticipate that these changes, in themselves, will have an adverse impact in terms of for example, cost. We would like to know if you disagree, along with your reasons. Please email consultation@sra.org.uk.

Question of ethics: Employing a solicitor as a paralegal

Question: I am currently an unemployed solicitor and have so far been unsuccessful in finding a job as a solicitor. Is there any problem with me accepting a job in my private practice as a paralegal?

Read the answer

Events

PC renewals

A final series of PCR User engagement sessions will be held this month.

We held a number of these across the country during the summer to confirm the 2012 PC Renewals timetable and explain in detail the material we are providing to help organisation contacts and authorised signatories be ready for this year's renewals exercise.

Attendees will also see a demonstration of the enhanced solution that firms will be using to submit their renewal applications this year, and attend interactive sessions to enable them to discuss any queries they may have with subject matter experts.

They take place at the Holiday Inn Kings Cross (London) on 11 October, The Law Society (Cardiff) on 12 October, the Holiday Inn Royal Victoria (Sheffield) on 15 October, and Crowne Plaza (Birmingham) on 16 October.

Stakeholder engagement

We have been arranging events for different sectors of the regulated community to strengthen their links with us.

The first took place last week (Wednesday, 26 September) in Oxford for sole practitioners, while the next will be held at the Law Society's Chancery Lane for black and minority ethnic solicitors on Wednesday, 17 October.

The workshop will cover two key areas around the SRA's approach to outcomes-focused regulation. These are (1) How the SRA supervises practices – including the importance of constructive engagement, the reporting duties of Compliance Officers for Legal Practice(COLPs) and Compliance Officers for Finance and Administration (COFAs), and how to avoid enforcement action, and (2) Financial management of firms – including how practitioners can manage financial difficulties and avoid making common mistakes that can ultimately lead to serious regulatory issues.

Delegates attending the interactive sessions will learn practical tips for avoiding regulatory action, including case studies based on the experience of SRA colleagues and have the opportunity to ask questions. Attendance at the whole event qualifies for 2 CPD hours.

A second workshop event will be held on Wednesday 5 December in Birmingham at De Vere venues, Colmore Gate—further details, including booking instructions, will appear on this website.

Referral fees

A Referral Fees Forum will take place on Monday, 19 November, in Birmingham.

We are hosting this one-day forum to debate the issues and concerns of key stakeholders with the forthcoming ban on referral fees in personal injury cases due to be introduced next April.

Book now

How to unsubscribe

Unsubscribe from SRA Update. We cannot process unsubscribe requests submitted by email.

How to subscribe—if you're regulated by the SRA
  • As a regulated individual, please simply ensure that the SRA has your current contact email address on record.
  • No subscription request is required.
  • We recommend that you ask your network administrator to ensure that bulk email with "SRA Update" in the subject line is not filtered as spam.
  • If you do not wish to receive SRA Update, please unsubscribe.
How to subscribe—if you're not regulated by the SRA

If you are not regulated by the SRA, please email a subscription request to SRAupdate@sra.org.uk.

Editorial comment

Please send editorial comment to SRAupdate@sra.org.uk.

Print page to PDF