Annual Review 2015/16

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Our Annual Review 2015/16 discusses our performance against the objectives set out in our Corporate Strategy and key regulatory activities from the reported year.

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Published: 22 June 2017

Foreword

Enid RowlandsWelcome to our Annual Review for 2015/16. It sets out what we have been doing over the year in all the key areas of our work, as well as looking at some of the key themes and how things have changed over recent years.

2015/16 was a busy time for us and I am pleased that we made good progress. Our major change programme is not only continually improving how we work, but also simplifying and updating our regulatory model.

Our core regulatory reform programme – Looking to the Future – is designed to further develop a competitive and modern legal market, while providing proper protection for consumers. Reducing bureaucracy, removing unnecessary constraints, focusing on professional standards and encouraging innovation means that law firms can increasingly offer new services in new ways.

That can only help to grow the provision of affordable, accessible services for both the public and businesses.

Clearly, it's important that solicitors offer high quality legal services, and that means high standards of entry to the profession. 2015/16 saw us move forward as we open up access to the profession through new "earn as you learn” ways of training, and proposals for a single examination for all aspiring solicitors.

We took a further step to improve access to solicitors' services with the launch of our popular, online Law Firm Search earlier in the year. Already well used, this service helps the public to access the information they need to make good choices about choosing a solicitor. The October publication of a discussion paper on sharing information about solicitors continues this work, and looks at how we can develop our services in years to come.

Many thousands of people have helped us develop our reform programmes this year and, for me, that is enormously important. We have not only listened to people's views, but, crucially, we have listened to how we can provide better customer services and improve the timeliness of our work. We have tried hard to reach out to stakeholders, whether that was through our Question of Trust campaign (asking solicitors and the public alike what they think should happen when things go wrong), our wide range of events or our ever-increasing social media reach. I personally think it is important that we take every opportunity to speak to the public and the profession – and that is what we have done. We do this to better meet the needs of all those who need the services of a solicitor, those who have a concern about a solicitor and indeed solicitors themselves.

We have much more to do. But 2015/16 has set the foundations for continuing progress and reform in the years to come. It's been a good year but, as always, we have much more to do.

If you would like more information, you can find more about how we work and our priorities on our website and through our social media channels. I am always keen to hear views, so please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Enid Rowlands
Chair of the SRA Board

About us

The Solicitors Regulation Authority regulates 170,000 solicitors and 10,400 law firms in England and Wales. We work in the public interest, protecting consumers and setting and enforcing high professional standards, and supporting access to affordable legal services, the rule of law and the administration of justice.

Setting high professional standards

We make sure that those entering the profession are fit to practise and meet the high professional standards the public expects. We do this by overseeing professional education and training, setting the entry standards, and checking that applicants are of a suitable character before allowing them to become a solicitor.

Similarly, we assess law firms and other types of legal businesses to make sure they are fit to offer legal services, before allowing them to do so. And, once those individuals and firms are in practice, we provide guidance and rules, such as requiring continuing professional development, to make sure that those standards are maintained.

Information and guidance

We provide information about solicitors, their work and the standards the public is entitled to expect. We are working towards increasing the availability of relevant and timely information to consumers, to help them make good choices when purchasing a legal service.

Safeguarding consumers

We make sure the public is protected by taking action when things go wrong. We set and monitor indemnity insurance requirements and we operate a compensation scheme. The fund exists to provide reimbursement to people who have lost money because of the dishonesty or incompetence of an individual or law firm that we regulate.

Disciplinary action

We monitor and supervise the conduct of solicitors and firms against the standards we have set. If solicitors or firms do not meet these standards, we investigate their practice and compliance with our rules, where necessary taking regulatory action, such as issuing a fine or reprimanding the solicitor. We prosecute when we have serious concerns about a solicitor or a firm's conduct at the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. When necessary, we take possession of a firm's files and money to protect clients and the wider public, and return papers and monies to their owners.

Affordable and accessible legal services

Most people and small businesses do not use legal services when they have a legal problem. We know that legal services are seen as expensive and hard to access, so we are working to create an open, modern and competitive legal market, providing more affordable and accessible services. To do this, we are reviewing our regulatory requirements to make sure they are proportionate. We are also reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, so solicitors and firms can do business more easily and offer new services, while maintaining consumer protection.

Funding

Who funds our work

Every year we collect practising fees from solicitors and law firms in England and Wales, and from solicitors and law firms practising English and Welsh law overseas.

We seek to recover some or all of the money we spend on intervening into law firms and taking disciplinary action against those we regulate. We also generate income by authorising alternative business structures to offer legal services under our regulation and issuing certificates of good standing, among other things.

We also operate a Compensation Fund. Law firms and solicitors pay an annual levy towards the Fund, and we distribute payments.

How much solicitors and firms pay

The practising fee we collect is set to fully or part fund five organisations, including ourselves. In 2015/16, each solicitor paid £320 to practise, and we collected £62.7m from firms, with the amount that each firm paid varying depending on the size and turnover of their practice. In 2015/16, we collected £105.8m in total.

Providing value for money

Our regulation should be cost-effective, affordable and proportionate, which is why we monitor how much firms and solicitors pay each year towards regulation.

Our fees policy is guided by principles including being fair to fee payers and maintaining stability in how much those we regulate are charged year to year.

Although there has been an inflation rate increase of 4.7% over the past four years, we have absorbed these increased costs, and the total amount individuals and firms pay for the SRA has remained at a consistent level over the past four years.

2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17
£53.6m £52.9m £54.1m £53.5m

How the fee is split

The practising fee is shared between:

  • the Law Society, the representative body for solicitors (we are part of the Law Society Group)
  • the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), the organisation which deals with service-related complaints about lawyers
  • the Legal Services Board (LSB), the independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers (including, for example, solicitors, barristers and licensed conveyancers) in England and Wales
  • the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), an independent statutory tribunal where prosecutions are brought against solicitors
  • the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulator of solicitors and law firms in England and Wales.

The LeO and the LSB also receive funding from other parts of the legal profession.

2015/16

SRA 51%
The Law Society 33%
LeO and the LSB 13%
SDT 3%

How we spend our money

Staff costs 43%
Disciplinary legal fees 11%
Interventions 8%
Other costs, such as office expenses and research programmes 21%
Services we share with the Law Society, for example HR and Finance 11%
Projects, such as the renewal of practising certificates 6%

Organisational structure

Board

Enid Rowlands, Chair

Consists of 15 members who oversee all SRA work.

Seven are solicitors and eight are lay people, including the Chair.


CEO

Paul Philip

Leads the strategic direction of the SRA


External Affairs (EA)

Executive Director, Jane Malcolm

Manages internal and external engagement

  • Governance
    Supports corporate governance

  • Corporate Complaints
    Handles complaints from the public and profession about our service

  • Digital Communications
    Manages the organisation's online presence and our contribution

  •  towards legalchoices.org.uk and iclr.net

  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
    Promotes equality in the sector, and embeds and supports EDI in our own work

  • External Communications
    Engages with external stakeholders through media and events

  • Internal Communications
    Keeps staff up to date and involved in our work

  • Public Affairs
    Works with parliamentarians and others


General Counsel

Executive Director, Juliet Oliver

Identifies and remedies legal issues affecting the organisation and oversees legal best practice and effective decision making

  • Legal Policy
    Supports reforms to deliver modern regulation through rule drafting and provision of legal advice

    • Governance Compliance
      Advises the CEO and the Board to make sure the organisation uses its powers in a way that is lawful and robust to challenge


Legal Case Direction

Executive Director, David Middleton
Gives guidance on various matters and cases across the organisation

  • Case Direction
    Advises other units across the organisation

  • Adjudication
    Makes formal regulatory decisions relating to disputed, high profile or complex cases


Operations and Quality

Executive Director, Robert Loughlin
Manages operations and monitors their effectiveness

  • Authorisation
    Authorises individuals and firms to enter the profession and monitors their suitability

  • Business improvement and Quality Assurance
    Implements quality assurance, manages information and supports training needs

  • Contact Centre
    Handles incoming queries from the public and profession

  • Client Protection
    Administers the Compensation Fund and intervenes into law firms

  • Investigation and Supervision
    Risk assesses, analyses and investigates reports made about solicitors each year

  • Legal and Enforcement
    Prepares cases to take to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

  • Regulatory Management
    Proactively engages with firms on a range of issues and carries out thematic research into the legal sector


Policy

Executive Director, Crispin Passmore
Advances changes to policy and regulation within the legal sector

  • Education and Training
    Develops policy on the education and training of solicitors

  • Ethics Guidance
    Provides guidance on our Code and Handbook to those we regulate

  • Policy
    Delivers reforms to implement modern regulation and ensures high professional standards

  • Research and Analysis
    Provides research and data to support evidence-based policy making


Strategy and Resources

Executive Director, Richard Collins

Develops and executes the organisation's strategy

  • Business Change
    Drives and delivers collaborative change and improvements across the organisation

  • IT and Infrastructure
    Develops and manages the organisation's IT needs

  • Finance Resources and Support Functions
    Manages the organisation's finances, handles employee relations and resources, runs risk and continuity programmes

Corporate strategy

We are now in the third year of our 2014 to 2017 Corporate Strategy, which sets out our four key objectives. This section explains how we performed against each of these during 2015/16.

Objective one

We will reform our regulation to enable growth and innovation in the market and to strike the right balance between regulatory burdens and ensuring consumer protection.

Looking to the Future: To create more accessible, affordable legal services for the public, this programme simplifies our rules.

Question of Trust: We asked the public and the profession what they expect from solicitors and what should happen when things go wrong. This research will influence a revised enforcement strategy.

SRA Innovate: This initiative supports firms looking to provide services for the public in new, innovative ways.

Regulatory data and consumer choice: We launched an online law firm search engine as the first step towards a public register, offering information on the 10,000 plus law firms we regulate. And, a discussion paper on this area offers proposals to publish more information about solicitors and firms, helping the public make decisions about which legal services to purchase.

Working with small firms: Our dedicated team supports this group of law firms, which provide important services for many high street consumers.

Anti-money laundering: We undertook a major review of the practices of more than 250 firms to share good practice and support the sector in preventing money laundering.

Objective two

We will work with solicitors and firms to raise standards and uphold core professional principles.

Solicitors Qualifying Examination: To make sure all solicitors are tested to the same high standard, regardless of route into the profession, we consulted on a centralised assessment for solicitors.

Continuing competence: Our new approach to professional development – continuing competence – came into effect. This removed the box-ticking approach of counting hours. We now ask solicitors to make sure they are competent to practise, to pursue relevant training and to confirm to us that they are up to date with their legal knowledge.

Supporting youth court solicitors: We worked with the Criminal Justice System and others to make sure solicitors practising in the Youth Court were able to use the new continuing competence approach. This is to ensure young people get a proper standard of service.

Solicitor apprenticeships: The Trailblazer apprenticeships in law we developed with employers and CILEx Regulation were approved and published by the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We expect the number of legal apprentices to increase, opening up access to the profession.

Risk Outlook: We highlight risks in the legal landscape – such as cybercrime and protecting client money – and make recommendations on how to tackle them through our Risk Outlook publications.

Warning notices: In 2015/16, we issued warning notices on two areas. One concerned those we regulate taking referrals for personal injury work from third parties – activity which was banned in 2013. The second concerned law firm involvement in fraudulent high-yield investment schemes, which have cost the public more than £100m.

Objective three

We will improve our operational performance and make justifiable decisions promptly, effectively and efficiently.

Operational development: Key improvements in our operational work over the past two years (September 2014 to September 2016) are:

  • average time to authorise firm-based applications fell from 74 to 30 days
  • average time to conclude a disciplinary investigation fell from 102 to 86 days.

We also made improvements in issuing practising certificates, reducing the time taken to do so to an average of two days.

Modernising IT programme: We developed and agreed a new IT strategy to replace our core systems with more modern, flexible, systems, with lower long-term operating costs.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI): We strengthened our decision-making processes by delivering EDI, unconscious bias and dignity at work training for staff. We have an EDI strategy alongside our corporate strategy.

Our values: We introduced five core staff values:

  • Independent
  • Professional
  • Fair
  • Progressive
  • Inclusive.

Objective four

We will work with our stakeholders to improve the quality of our services and their experience when using them.

Face-to-face engagement: We reach out to the public and profession across England and Wales, and had a presence at 175 events last year. We held 12 Meet the Board sessions for local law societies and the profession.

Websites and social media: We saw an 8 percent increase in visits to our website, to 1.7 million. We increased traffic to our public-facing Legal Choices website with visits up by over 80 percent, to 40,000.

Virtual reference groups: We have five groups, which we use to engage with people on long-term programmes and emerging policy development. These are: Looking to the Future, Solicitors Qualifying Examination, SRA Innovate, Small Firms and Diversity Matters.

A modern workforce: We carried out our third collection of firm diversity data, with 88 percent of law firms reporting their data.

International presence: We developed the website iclr.net in conjunction with regulators worldwide and launched it at the annual International Conference of Legal Regulators. The website supports the global community of legal sector regulators in sharing research, ideas and best practice.

Leaving the EU: We published Exiting the EU: An update for lawyers, highlighting the potential implications for law firms and solicitors.

The year in numbers

The firms and individuals we regulate

Practising solicitors 139,313
Law firms 10,415
Law firms that have adopted an alternative business structure licence 550
Non-practising individuals on the roll of solicitors 39,027
Registered European lawyers 627
Registered foreign lawyers 2,337
Exempt European lawyers 2,827

View full breakdown of law firms by type

Ethics guidance

Engaging Our Ethics Guidance Team offers guidance and support to solicitors and law firms on all ethics-related issues affecting their practice. We received more than 30,000 queries in 2015/16. The top five concerns were about:

  • confidentiality and disclosure
  • Accounts Rules
  • practising certificates
  • client care
  • conflict of interest.

Calls to our Contact Centre

We received 195,000 calls to our Contact Centre during 2015/16.

Some 82,000 queries were from members of the public. They most commonly contacted us to report a solicitor, ask us to validate a solicitor, or to ask how they could retrieve their files from a closed firm. (The data explaining why consumers or solicitors called is taken from May 2016 to October 2016 only, following the introduction of a new customer insight tool.)

Some 73,000 queries were from the profession. The questions asked were varied and most frequently related to applications for practising certificates or to seek advice relating to the adoption of a new business model, for example an alternative business structure. Others concerned how to unlock, activate or make changes to their mySRA account.

Some 40,000 queries concerned education and training. Common questions were about the new continuing competence regime and other routes to qualification.

In addition, we received 27,000 emails from the profession:

  • 13,500 emails were from consumers
  • 13,500 emails were on questions related to education and training.

Engaging with stakeholders

We engaged with stakeholders at 175 events, 78 of which we hosted.

More than 800 compliance professionals came together at our annual compliance conference to discuss topics such as anti-money laundering, Brexit and cybercrime.

We held 12 Meet the Board sessions for members of the profession, which took place across England and Wales, including in Cardiff, Liverpool and Bournemouth.

Website traffic

Highlights from www.sra.org.uk:

  • 10 million page views
  • 1 million views of regulatory and disciplinary decisions on our Check a Solicitor pages
  • 300,000 views of guidance on continuing competence
  • 100,000 views of bogus firm and scam alerts
  • 100,000 views of our Risk Outlook and related content
  • 250,000 searches on our Law Firm Search.

Risks in the sector

Our most recent Risk Outlook highlighted 7 key risks to the sector:

  • lack of access to legal services
  • standards of service and vulnerability of clients
  • information security
  • independence and integrity
  • protecting client money
  • money laundering
  • diversity in the profession.

We issued 217 scam alerts to warn the public and the profession of cybercrime. In the majority of cases, fraudsters were pretending to be solicitors to give their scam an air of legitimacy. One of the most common types of scam attempts is to hook members of the public by telling them that they are entitled to part of an inheritance.

Supervision outcomes 2015/16

Number of allegations upheld/action taken 377 Decision outcomes Agreed outcomes by
Regulatory Settlement
Agreement (RSA)
Letter of advice 236 -
Finding/finding and warning 19 1
Rebuke or reprimand 65 12
Fine 42 7
Conditions imposed 23 0
Section 43 order 42 1

A section 43 order means we restrict individuals (non-lawyers, eg managers and other employees) from working in a law firm without our permission.

View information on the disciplinary action we take, and the definition of an RSA.

Hearings at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal2015/16

We brought 129 cases to the SDT in 2015/16 which resulted in the following decisions:

Please note, one hearing can have multiple decisions made on it.

Strike off 75
Fine 52
Suspend 17
No order 3
Other decision 14

Compensation Fund

We provided £10.3m from the Compensation Fund to members of the public and businesses who suffered financial loss because of a dishonest or incompetent solicitor.

The top two reasons for compensating consumers were:

  • replacing misappropriated inheritance – £4m
  • replacing stolen funds that were intended for house deposits –£1m.

The largest single payment was for £488,155. In this case, a solicitor misappropriated client money for their own use.

Authorisation

Entry to the profession is the key point at which we make sure individuals and businesses meet the high professional standards the public expects from their solicitor or law firm. We do this by carrying out character and suitability checks, as well as making sure they meet our training requirements. Our aim is to make the authorisation of firms and individuals as efficient and as smooth as possible.

Authorisation – glossary

Exempt European lawyer (EEL): We authorise and regulate exempt European lawyers who are managers in law firms we regulate. An EEL is a lawyer as described by an EU directive.

Registered European lawyer (REL): A European lawyer registered with us and whose practice in England and Wales we regulate.

Registered foreign lawyer (RFL): A lawyer, from outside Europe, registered with us and whose practice in England and Wales as an RFL we regulate.

Who we authorise and regulate

  • We authorise and issue practising certificates to solicitors who practise English and Welsh law, the vast majority of whom practise in England and Wales. We then regulate these solicitors.
  • We authorise and then regulate solicitors who practise English and Welsh law overseas.
  • We authorise and then regulate law firms and other types of businesses in England and Wales that offer legal services.
  • We authorise and regulate RELs and RFLs.
  • We authorise and then regulate EELs.
  • We regulate those we admit onto the roll of solicitors. This is a list of solicitors we have admitted to the profession. We then maintain and protect the integrity of the roll of solicitors.

Headline figures 2015/16

The number of individual applications admitted to the profession in 2015/16. View a breakdown of admission by route.

Month Total admitted
November 2015 292
December 2015 253
January 2016 300
February 2016 324
March 2016 821
April 2016 405
May 2016 276
June 2016 288
July 2016 391
August 2016 371
September 2016 2,182
October 2016 549
Total 6,452

Individuals assess whether they are fit to enter the profession by our character and suitability test, and will remove themselves from the applications process if they do not meet our requirements. In 2015/16, we refused three applications. This was because those individuals either falsely held themselves out as a solicitor, or had drink driving convictions.

The majority of solicitors still join the profession in autumn. This is because law firms' two-year training programmes traditionally follow the academic year, finishing at the end of the summer. Once the Solicitors Qualifying Examination is introduced and as more individuals enter through the apprenticeship route, we expect this trend will decline, but not for a number of years.

We also see a small peak in the number of solicitors we admit during March. This is because training providers can reduce the two-year training programme by up to six months where an individual has prior, relevant work-based experience.

Number of solicitors holding a practising certificate and on the roll 2013 to 2016

  PC holders On the roll
Oct 2014 133,327 164,133
Oct 2015 136,294 171,464
Oct 2016 139,313 178,340

Profile of law firms 2013 to 2016

The number of law firms choosing to apply for an alternative business structure (ABS) licence continues to increase, and is an especially popular choice for incorporated companies. The overall number of law firms in England and Wales has stayed relatively stable. Please note, these figures are from the October of each year.

  2015/16 ABS subset 15/16
Incorporated company 4,205 369
Sole practitioner 2,627 -
Partnership 1,978 28
Limited liability partnership (LLP) 1,559 152
Other 46 1
Total 10,415 550
  2014/15 ABS subset 14/15
Incorporated company 3,813 268
Sole practitioner 2,725 -
Partnership 2,203 25
Limited liability partnership (LLP) 1,550 130
Other 45 1
Total 10,336 424
  2013/14 ABS subset 13/14
Incorporated company 3,509 186
Sole practitioner 2,856 -
Partnership 2,419 23
Limited liability partnership (LLP) 1,577 116
Other 83 -
Total 10,444 325

The regulatory landscape of Wales

  • Around 3,700 practising solicitors and 450 head offices are based in Wales, largely in Cardiff. (This is an estimate figure due to cross-border working.)
  • Some 4% of law firm head offices are based in Wales, but fewer than 1% of ABSs have their head offices in Wales.
  • Some 737 practising certificates were issued in Welsh last year, supporting law firms to provide services to people who speak Welsh.
  • Law firms based in Wales had a turnover of £380m in 2015/16, up £10m from the year before.

In-house population

  • One in five lawyers works in-house.
  • 67% of in-house solicitors work in the private sector, 26% in the public sector and 7% work in the third sector, which includes advice centres and registered charities.
  • 57% are women, which is significantly more than in law firms.
  • 17% percent are Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), in line with the sector.
  • Just 1.4% are disabled. This group is significantly under-represented compared with law firm solicitors (3%) and the wider working age population (10%).

Diversity profile of law firms

We recognise that a diverse market, with solicitors from a diverse range of backgrounds working in it, better serves the public's legal needs. To make sure we understand the diversity of law firms and solicitors, we collected and shared diversity data on those working in the firms we regulate in 2014 and again in 2016.

Our 2016 exercise gathered information from more than 9,000 law firms and the 170,000 people (solicitors and others) working in them. The key findings from our latest collection show that diversity is slightly improving, but there is still more to do.

Women: Half of all lawyers (47%) are women. However, only one-third of these are partners. This has not changed over the past two years.

Social mobility: Compared with 7% of the general population, 22% of lawyers are privately educated. More than half the profession (53%) is made up of individuals who are the first generation from their family to attend university.

Ethnicity: Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers are well-represented in the sector (18%), but this varies between different ethnic groups. The number of BAME partners remains static. There was a representation of 16% BAME lawyers in 2014 and 17% in 2015.

Sexual orientation: Some 3% of lawyers in 2014 and 2015 identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, compared with Stonewall's estimate of between 5 to 7% of the wider population. There has been no change between 2014 and 2016.

Disability: Disabled people may be under-represented in law firms compared with the wider population. Only 3% of all lawyers and 4% of other staff say they have a disability. However, Government Labour Force Survey Analysis shows that 10% of working age adults in employment are disabled. In May 2016, we launched the Your Health, Your Career initiative, where we encourage solicitors to contact us if they feel inhibited by a disability or health problem.

Authorising ABSs

Alternative business structures (ABSs) allow non-lawyers to own or invest in law firms, opening up what was previously a closed market. They were first introduced into the legal sector by the Legal Services Act 2007, and we started authorising them in early 2011. The firms that decide to adopt an ABS vary widely in terms of size (eg number of partners and staff) and turnover — so no two are ever the same.

Speeding up authorisation

We have made improvements in the time taken to approve applications to become ABSs:

2013/14 2014/15 2015/16
111 days 76 days 69 days

Case study | Helping firms make the right choice

We offer assistance to firms and solicitors who are thinking about adopting a new structure or who are considering starting up a new business that offers legal services.

The firm: In the past year, we spoke with two solicitors who wanted to create a firm that offered technological solutions to other law firms.

The issue: To attract the right employees, they wanted to be able to offer staff shares in the company. They knew they would not be able to do this in a recognised body, and thought that they would need to be removed from the roll. They did not want to do this because they wanted to retain their solicitor status.

Our solution: We suggested they form a licensed body with a corporate body approved to be the owner of the firm. This made it possible for them to be an ABS and allowed for future growth of the business.

Authorising MDPs

Multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs) are a type of ABS that provide legal services alongside other professional services, such as accountancy or surveying. We started authorising MDPs in 2014. MDPs allow the public and businesses to access legal and other professional services all under one roof. Each MDP will also be overseen by a professional regulator from another sector. We are committed to not duplicating that regulation.

MDPS | Fast facts

An MDP model allows firms to:

  • complement the skills and expertise of lawyers with people from different professional backgrounds
  • carry out reserved legal activities
  • offer legal services alongside other professional services and other offerings, such as accountancy services
  • avoid duplication of regulation
  • MDPs have grown to represent about £100m turnover of legal services.

Education and training

Setting the education and training standards for solicitors is essential to making sure we only allow competent individuals into the profession. This is so that consumers receive a proper standard of service from their solicitor. We are reforming this area so that instead of specifying the way solicitors are educated, we focus on setting and assessing high professional standards and allow greater flexibility in training. This means we can continue to grow the legal market and maintain public confidence in solicitors.

Headline figures 2015/16

Solicitors currently enter the profession from a wide range of routes, such as a traditional law degree and via a training contract, specialised work, and from working in jurisdictions overseas. The table below shows the number of individuals we admitted by each route from 2013 to 2016. A definition of terms can be found in the glossary.

  • We authorised 5,254 organisations to carry out periods of recognised training.
  • 6,735 solicitors held higher rights of audience (HRAs), a marginal increase of around 3% from 2014, when 6,541 solicitors held HRAs.

Admission by route 2013 to 2016

Route 2015/16 2014/15 2013/14
LPC 5,580 5,347 5,334
QLTT 27 53 505
QLTS 541 485 437
CILEx 237 186 114
Other 67 37 21
Total 6,452 6,108 6,411

Other can mean, for example, some qualifying from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, some registered European lawyers and Magistrates' Clerks.

Key findings for the education year 2015/16

Our latest Regulation and Education, Authorisation and Monitoring Activity report presented data from legal course providers on the demographic of those who passed their LPC, CPE or GDL. The key findings of this report for this period were:

  • The proportion of students who successfully passed the LPC remains relatively constant at 70% in 2014/15 and 69% in 2013/14.
  • Male and female students appear to perform equally well on the CPE and LPC.
  • Women outnumber men on both the LPC and CPE courses and at the point of admission.
  • Data indicates that students from ethnic groups are less likely to complete the CPE and the LPC.

Read the full Regulation and Education report.

Education and training – glossary

CILEx: Chartered Institute of Legal Executives – provides training to become a legal executive, and regulates legal executives.

CPE: Common Professional Examination – a postgraduate law course taken by non-law graduates who wish to become a solicitor or barrister in England and Wales. Also known as the GDL (see below).

GDL: Graduate Diploma in Law – see CPE.

HRAs: Higher rights of audience – Solicitors must be authorised by us to exercise rights of audience in the higher courts. These are the Crown Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court in England and Wales.

LPC: Legal Practice Course – a vocational stage of training just before the PRT.

PRT: Period of Recognised Training – work-based learning which forms part of the vocational stage in the route to qualifying as a solicitor.

QLTS: Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme – allows those who are already qualified lawyers in other jurisdictions to qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales.

QLTT: Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test – this has now been phased out and replaced by the less bureaucratic QLTS.

Referral: Where the student has failed one or more module.

Solicitors Qualifying Examination

We are proposing to introduce a centralised assessment at the point of entry to the profession, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). Anyone wanting to be admitted as a solicitor would have to pass the SQE to qualify.

The proposals would address current inconsistencies in the legal education market, where courses and exams are delivered by more than 100 different providers and where pass rates on the GDL and the LPC fluctuate between 50 and 100 percent.

Instead, the SQE would test aspiring solicitors against the same standard, regardless of whether they were a graduate, an apprentice, or a legal executive. The SQE would assure high professional standards across the profession.

Greater choice and more cost-effective ways to train should encourage a more diverse profession. Once we introduce the SQE, we will monitor the profile of entrants into the profession carefully, to see how it changes.

Equivalent means

In 2014 we introduced an alternative route to qualification that allows individuals to progress where they can show they have met our requirements for a particular stage of training through equivalent means.

For example, solicitors can qualify even if they have not completed a two-year training contract with a law firm. If an aspiring solicitor can demonstrate they have experience equivalent to a training contract, we will admit them to the profession.

 

"There are lots of people out there who cannot be admitted as a solicitor, not because they do not have the talent, but because they cannot get a training contract.
"Some of them are working as paralegals doing the equivalent work of a trainee – or even of a qualified solicitor. The equivalent means route is an example of us looking at how we regulate, and removing barriers that stop people qualifying but which do not actually assure high standards."
Julie Brannan, Director of Legal Education and Training.

 

Creating this alternative route to the profession is part our Training for Tomorrow initiative, which aims, among other things, to encourage students from all backgrounds to pursue a career in law.

The number of solicitors admitted through equivalent means is increasing:

2014/15 2015/16
8 63

Maintaining standards - Investigation and supervision

Every year we receive around 11,000 reports raising concerns about the solicitors and legal businesses we regulate. Reports can come from the profession itself, for example from compliance officers or solicitors, as well as from members of the public, the police and the courts.

Our Investigation and Supervision Team reviews the concerns. The following factors are then considered when deciding whether or not to investigate further:

  • What evidence has been provided and its source.
  • The regulatory history of the firm or individual.
  • The impact the alleged misconduct or issue might have.

Protecting client money during the investigation or supervision of a firm is vital. We work to make sure that people's money is not put at risk by any misconduct or poor management. And it is important that any firms closing down do so properly, so that their clients' paperwork and money are safe.

Nature of issues reported to us 2015/16

Top ten issues reported overall 

  1. Incompetent, negligent or delayed client care.
  2. Taking unfair advantage of a non-client (a third party).
  3. Intentionally misleading the court.     
  4. Theft of a regulated individual or entity's ID (also covers cloned websites).
  5. Confidentiality breach.
  6. Fraud, deception and dishonesty. 
  7. Breach of our Accounts Rules: the failure to account for client money.
  8. Intentionally misleading an individual.
  9. Personal conflict of interest.
  10. Client care: inappropriate behaviour or refusing instructions. Offensive behaviour: written or verbal.

Top ten issues reported by those we regulate

  1. Theft of a regulated individual or entity's ID (also covers cloned websites).
  2. Confidentiality breach.
  3. Breach of our Accounts Rules: a shortage in the client account has been   replaced.
  4. Practising uncertified or without registration.
  5. Incompetent, negligent or delayed client care.
  6. A minor breach of our Accounts Rules.
  7. Breach of our Accounts Rules: the failure to replace a shortage in the client account.
  8. Fraud, deception and dishonesty.
  9. Someone we regulate has been charged and/or bailed.
  10. Breach of our Accounts Rules: the failure to account to the client or others.

The work of our Ethics Guidance team

To make sure the public can trust the profession, solicitors must act with integrity and make principled decisions. High ethical standards are expected by the public and are a fundamental part of being a solicitor. If someone we regulate is concerned that a course of action or behaviour is unethical, or thinks they may have breached our rules, we encourage them to contact our Ethics Guidance Team, who can advise them on the best course of action. In 2015/16, more than 30,000 people contacted us through our dedicated helpline and Webchat to check whether they were acting within our rules. Their top five concerns were about:

  • confidentiality and disclosure
  • Accounts Rules
  • practising certificates
  • client care
  • conflict of interest.

Reports 2015/16

Results of reports received from 1 November 2015 to 31 October 2016:

Reports received concerning solicitors' or firms' behaviour 11,236
Referred to Supervision for investigation into conduct 5,548
Sent to Supervision but warrants no investigation. Information is stored as part of our risk profiling 4,096
Referred to the Legal Ombudsman 1,079
Referred to another department in the SRA, because it is in fact a claim to the Compensation Fund, or matter for Authorisation 296
No SRA action taken as, for example, it is not in our jurisdiction to investigate 271

Where there have been minor, isolated breaches, we may write to the firm or individual to remind them of our requirements and the standards they must meet.

During the investigation and supervision process, we keep in contact with the person who made the report to us. Depending on the circumstances, we will let them know the reasons why we have or have not decided to open an investigation into the reported individual or firm. We will always try to give as much detail for our decision as possible. View details of our supervision outcomes.

Other reports of concerns may be handed over to the Legal Ombudsman, who deals with complaints about service issues. Similarly, if the Legal Ombudsman receives complaints or identifies through its investigation that a solicitor may have breached our rules of professional behaviour, it will contact us. In more serious cases, we can fine a firm or individual, put conditions on their practising certificate, and even intervene into a practice.

We will prosecute in the most serious of cases. Read more on interventions and how we protect the public.

Maintaining standards - Legal and enforcement

The public, consumers and the profession have the right to expect that when solicitors or law firms fall short of the standards we set, we will take action. Our Legal and Enforcement team works to enforce our rules fairly, taking robust action when necessary. The aim of our enforcement work is to:

  • protect solicitors' clients and the public – this could be by controlling or limiting the risk of harm, making sure an individual or firm is not able to repeat the offending or similar behaviour, or is deterred from doing so
  • send a signal to those we regulate to prevent similar behaviour
  • maintain and uphold standards of competence and ethical behaviour
  • uphold public confidence in the provision of legal services.

When we take regulatory or disciplinary action in-house, we use the civil standard of proof. This means we determine on the balance of probabilities whether any allegations that our regulations have been breached are true.

The range of sanctions we can impose are limited. For example, our fining powers against an individual are limited to £2,000, and we are unable to strike off a solicitor. However, we can impose a fine of up to £250m on an ABS and a fine of up to £50m on managers and employees of an ABS. When we receive serious allegations of misconduct, dishonesty or criminal activity or a breach of our rules, and where we see that the public interest is at risk, we refer the case to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Prosecuting individuals and firms

The SDT is an independent tribunal that has a range of sanctions it can impose. Its fining powers are unlimited, and it can suspend or strike off a solicitor. The Tribunal uses the criminal standard of proof, which means matters have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Around 25% of cases may result in a Regulatory Settlement Agreement (RSA). RSAs are agreed with solicitors and/or firms during the supervision process, or while the case is being referred to the Tribunal. RSAs are a practical way of achieving public protection without incurring further costs.

Action we take and action the SDT takes

Action taken and in which circumstance Level of misconduct (minor to serious) SRA sanction SDT sanction
Letter of advice: we remind the individual or firm, in writing, of their regulatory responsibilities. Minor
Finding/finding and warning: for more significant but one-off misconduct. The finding/finding and warning can be taken into account in the outcome of any future investigation. Moderate
Rebuke: we rebuke an individual or a firm where there has been a moderately serious breach of our requirements or standards Moderate
Fine: where there has been a serious breach of our requirements or standards and where, for example, the regulated person or firm has benefited financially from the misconduct, and it is appropriate to remove or reduce their financial gain. Serious or a series of incidents which together are serious. ✔up to £2,000 (However, we can impose a fine of up to £250m on an ABS and a fine of up to £50m on managers and employees of an ABS.) ✔unlimited (Please note, the SDT’s ability to take actions against firms will be dependent on the type of firm. For example, the SDT has no jurisdiction over firms with an ABS licence.)
Practising conditions placed on an individual: we restrict or prevent the involvement of an individual in certain activities or engaging in certain business agreements/associations or practising arrangements. Serious or a series of incidents which together are serious, and when it is necessary to deal with the risk posed. ✔Referred to as a 'restriction order'
Practising conditions placed on a firm: we restrict or prevent a firm, or one of its managers, employees, or interest holders from undertaking certain activities. This type of action can help facilitate effective monitoring of the firm through regular reporting. Serious or a series of incidents which together are serious, and when it is in the public interest to do so. ✔Referred to as a 'restriction order'
Reprimand: the SDT sanctions the regulated person for a breach of our requirements and/or standards. A reprimand is the SDT's equivalent of our rebuke. Moderate seriousness, or a series of incidents which together are moderately serious.
Section 43 order (for non-lawyers working in the profession, eg non-lawyer managers and employees such as legal secretaries): we restrict these individuals from working in a law firm without our permission. Serious or a series of incidents which together are serious.
Suspension or revocation of a firm's authorisation/recognition: we remove a firm's authorisation either permanently or temporarily. Serious or a series of incidents which together are serious.
Suspension: the SDT suspends a solicitor from practising either for a fixed term or for an indefinite period. The SDT can also suspend a period of suspension, so long as a restriction order remains in place. Serious or a series of incidents which together are serious.
Strike off: the SDT stops a solicitor from practising entirely. The solicitor's name is removed from the roll of solicitors. Serious or a series of incidents which together are serious.

Supervision outcomes 2013 to 2016

The Regulatory Settlement Agreements (RSAs) shown in the table below were agreed as part of the supervision process. RSAs allow us to protect both consumers and the public interest by reaching appropriate outcomes swiftly, efficiently and at a proportionate cost.

Please note, there can be more than one outcome per file.

2015/16

Files where allegations were upheld/action taken 377

  Decision outcomes Agreed outcomes by RSA
Letter of advice 236 -
Finding/finding and warning 91 1
Rebuke and reprimand 65 12
Fine 47 7
Conditions imposed on a firm or individual 23 0
Section 43 order 42 1

Files where allegations were upheld/action taken 265

  Decision outcomes Agreed outcomes by RSA
Letter of advice 118 -
Finding/finding and warning 32 0
Rebuke and reprimand 37 2
Fine 15 3
Conditions imposed on a firm or individual 28 0
Section 43 order 39 0

Files where allegations were upheld/action taken 451

  Decision outcomes Agreed outcomes by RSA
Letter of advice 213 -
Finding/finding and warning 116 0
Rebuke and reprimand 35 4
Fine 18 4
Conditions imposed on a firm or individual 12 1
Section 43 order 12 0

Regulatory settlement agreements 2013 to 2016

The RSAs shown below were agreed after we finished supervising the firm, but before the case reached the SDT.

Please note, a file with an RSA can have more than one outcome.

  2015/16 2014/15 2013/14
Files with an RSA 23 9 6
Fine 16 6 2
Rebuke or reprimand 9 3 3
Section 43 order 2 0 0
Section 47 (2) (g) 1 1 0
Other 0 0 3

A 47(2)(g) order means a former solicitor who has been removed from the roll cannot be restored to the roll unless the SDT allows it.

An other decision could be, for example, if the solicitor agrees to remove themselves from the Roll and pay the SRA's costs.

Hearings at the SDT 2015/16

In the cases we brought in 2015/16, 97% resulted in a finding of misconduct upheld or a sanction imposed.

Cases we brought to the SDT in 2013 to 2016 resulted in the following decisions (please note, one hearing can result in multiple decisions):

  2015/16 2014/15 2013/14
Cases brought 129 96 97
Strike off 75 53 56
Fine 52 30 27
Suspend 17 17 14
No order - ie the SDT
does not find in our favour
3 7 3
Other decision 14 10 18

An other decision could be, for example, a reprimand or section 43 order.

The 34% increase in cases we brought to the Tribunal in 2015/16 does not reflect a spike in concerns for the year, but was the result of a full case review.

Case study | Action taken against a solicitor and the firm

The solicitor: We took action against a newly qualified solicitor after receiving a report from the Manchester-based firm where the solicitor was head of the employment department. The firm reported that their employee had various orders made against him because he had not been dealing with employment cases properly, and he had fabricated issues.

During the course of his employment, the solicitor missed various court deadlines – which resulted in cases being struck out. He also failed to attend a judicial mediation hearing, where a judge acts as a mediator in employment cases, and sought to mislead his employer. For this he was found to be dishonest, and struck off the roll of solicitors.

The firm: The firm had little to no experience of employment law, and it became apparent during our investigation that it had failed to check the work of the newly qualified solicitor, who was under-qualified to carry out the type of work he was undertaking.

In addition to taking action against the solicitor for dishonesty, we decided to take action against the firm for failing to supervise their employee. The firm clearly had no adequate provisions in place, and the SDT fined it £7,500.

Client protection - Intervention

Our Client Protection team intervenes into law firms to protect the public from using the services of incompetent or dishonest solicitors. When intervening into a firm, we take possession of all client money and files and return everything to their owners. For all intents and purposes, the practice is then closed down and no longer able to operate.

We intervene into a practice when:

We work with third-party intervention agents to take responsibility for client money in a firm's accounts and any client files. We remove all files from the firm's offices and contact the clients to explain what has happened. Our agent, usually a law firm, will deal with urgent client matters. It also identifies files so that we can contact the clients to let them know we have shut down the firm. The agent also gives the firm's clients advice on what to do next.

If a client's file is not urgent or is dormant, we will archive it in our facilities in Coventry or Darlington. The archive is run by Capita, and it deals with requests from clients for their papers. We analyse and reconstruct the accounts records and try to return the money to its owners. Money is often missing from the client account. In these situations, clients who have not received their money can make a claim to the firm's insurers or to the Compensation Fund.

Interventions in numbers

During and immediately after the recession of 2008, we saw a steep rise in interventions into law firms reliant on residential conveyancing, an area of work badly affected by the economic downturn.

As the economy recovered, the number of interventions of this type, often involving a high number of client files and large amounts of money related to house sales and purchases, decreased. This had an influence on the overall number of interventions.

Year Number of interventions
2004/05 58
2005/06 55
2006/07 47
2007/08 66
2008/09 89
2009/10 74
2010/11 40
2011/12 42
2012/13 50
2013/14 51
2014/15 40
2015/16 37

Grounds for intervention 2015/16

Suspected dishonesty 21
Solicitors Practice Rule breaches 18
Protect interests of clients beneficiary 16
Solicitors Accounts Rule breaches 15
Bankrupt 5
Abandoned 1
Struck off or suspended 1
Committed to prison 1

Please note, each intervention can have more than one reason for intervening.

Intervention in action

We intervened into a nationwide firm last year because we suspected dishonesty by the sole director and others in the firm. We received the allegations after a government body conducted an audit on the firm's files and referred its findings to us.

We also received reports that clients could not contact members of the firm, and were not represented at hearings.

We decided it was necessary to intervene to protect the interests of the firm's clients. We appointed a number of intervention agents because of the firm's nationwide presence, froze the accounts and removed all the files and records.

The firm had a diverse range of clients, and many did not speak English as their first language. To make sure we were able to help as many people as possible, we translated key information about the intervention into 13 languages, including Hindi, Urdu, Mandarin and Polish. We encouraged all the clients to call or email us and had translators ready to help them.

Client protection - Compensation fund

The Compensation Fund is there to compensate members of the public and small businesses who suffer a financial loss as a result of an incompetent or dishonest solicitor. Solicitors and law firms fund it through an annual levy, and we administer it.

We collected £32 from each solicitor and £548 from each law firm in 2015/16. We keep reserves in the Fund to make sure the public is protected at all times from any developing threats and can vary the levy in the light of risks we see emerging in the legal sector.

People can make claims on the Fund through a form on our website, and we actively point people to the Fund when we intervene into a firm. Once we receive a claim, we assess whether or not the Fund can help.People making a claim are often in difficult or distressing circumstances, so we work as quickly and as supportively as we can.

We provide compensation if the claims fall within our rules, and if the member of public or small business concerned has suffered a financial loss because of a solicitor or firm we regulate.

The two most common reasons we make payments are:

  • Probate: When solicitors misappropriate someone's inheritance.
  • Conveyancing: Where dishonest or incompetent solicitors steal or lose deposits, mortgage advances or sale proceeds.

There are some circumstances where we will refuse a claim. For example, if the claim:

  • should be redirected to the firm's insurer
  • is from a business with a turnover of £2m or more per year
  • is for interest the regulated person had agreed to pay their client.

We monitor the amount paid out from the Compensation Fund each year and the types of claims we receive. The decrease in interventions and successful claims relating to conveyancing since the 2008 recession-related peak means that the Fund has paid out less recently. But, we also monitor emerging risks to consumers and their finances. For example, fraudulent investment schemes with solicitor law firm involvement have already cost the public more than £100m.

Headline figures

Some 1,504 claims were made to the Compensation Fund in 2015/16. We closed 1,516 claims in the same period*. Of these, 604 claims led to our making a payment (40%), and were worth £10.3m.

Claims made in 2015/16 1,504
Claims closed in 2015/16 1,516*
Number of claims that led to our making a payment 604
How much claims that resulted in a payment were worth £10.3m

* Not the same group of claims as those made in 2015/16.

Top five reasons we made payments 2013 to 2016:

2015/16
Claim reason Payment
1 Probate - balance due to estate £3.9m
2 Sale proceeds £1m
3 Theft of client money £1m
4 Return of deposit £700K
5 Fraud – conveyancing £700K
2014/15
Claim reason Payment
1 Return of deposit £3.5m
2 Probate – balance due to estate £3.4m
3 Return on payment account of costs £2.2m
4 Gross overcharging £1.8m
5 Mortgage fraud/misappropriated mortgage advance £1.8m
2013/14
Claim reason Payment
1 Probate – balance due to estate £4.8m
2 Unredeemed mortgage £2.6m
3 Fraud – conveyancing £2.4m
4 Sale proceeds £2.3m
5 Failure to pay SDLT/LR £2m

Read a glossary of claim reasons

Archiving client files

We have collected millions of files from law firms following interventions, and it is our task to sort through the non-urgent or "dormant”client files, such as wills and deeds. Once indexed, we archive and store the files and documents, returning files to clients on request.

We recognise the importance in preserving historical documents for the benefit of the public, and as we carry out this work we are careful to look for items of historical interest. We improved our process for detecting historic files in 2014 and we work closely with the British Records Association, which guides and supports us in this work. We set aside anything dating from before the First World War for review before archiving.

During our work, we have uncovered many old deeds to famous buildings and land – for example, deeds from the time of Henry VIII for the statesman William Paget and the original deeds to White Hart Lane, the home of Tottenham Hotspur. We were pleased to be able to return them to the football club.

Case study | Compensation Fund in action

Stolen house deposit: A young couple were buying their first house and had paid £25,000 as a deposit to their solicitor. Contracts were exchanged and completion was set for a week later. The couple gave notice on their rented flat and new tenants were ready to move in.

We intervened into the firm just after exchange. The firm's accounts were chaotic and we could not tell what had happened to the deposit – it seemed to have been taken by their solicitor. We phoned the couple to explain what was happening. They were upset and very worried. Happily, we were able to make an emergency payment to them from the Compensation Fund within 48hours so that completion could go ahead.

The amount paid out each year from the Compensation Fund 2013 to 2016:

Year Total paid out in grants
2013/14 £23.6m
2014/15 £17.8m
2015/16 £10.3m

The payments we make each year correlate with the number of interventions we carry out. The decrease in grants from 2013 to 2016 reflects the downward trend in the number of interventions for this same period.

Claim reasons – glossary

Failure to pay SDLT/LR: In a conveyancing transaction, the solicitor has failed to pass on the stamp duty land tax or Land Registry fees paid by the client.

Fraud – conveyancing: Commonly known as "Friday afternoon fraud.” Criminals target conveyancing firms, who usually complete house sales on a Friday. They convince solicitors to transfer house deposits to them by posing as someone from the bank.

Gross overcharging: The solicitor or firm has knowingly and calculatedly overcharged the client for services.

Mortgage fraud/misappropriated mortgage advance: This can include overvaluation, back-to-back transactions and theft of mortgage monies.

Probate – balance due to estate: The solicitor or firm misappropriates inheritance due to a client.

Return of deposit: A claim for money paid as a deposit to a law firm on exchange of contracts, but not returned.

Return on payment account of costs: A client pays costs to a law firm, but the work has not been done.

Sale proceeds: A claim for money received by a law firm upon sale of property.

Theft of client money: The solicitor or firm has stolen client money.

Unredeemed mortgage: A law firm instructed on the sale of property fails to pay off the existing mortgage on the property.

Looking ahead

As our 2014 to 2017 Corporate Strategy comes to an end, we have outlined how we will continue to work towards our four key objectives in 2016/17. We will develop and consult on a new three-year strategy in summer 2017.

Objective one

We will reform our regulation to enable growth and innovation in the market and to strike the right balance between regulatory burdens and ensuring consumer protection.

Regulatory reform programme: We will continue to focus on reducing unnecessary barriers to innovation and growth.

Looking to the Future: We will lay out the next steps following our 2015/16 consultations to simplify our rules, set clear Codes of Conduct and free up solicitors working in non-SRA regulated organisations.

Competition and Markets Authority (CMA): We will review the CMA's final report on the supply of legal services. We welcome the CMA's support for better information for consumers and the principle of regulatory independence.

Financial protection arrangements: We must achieve the right balance between consumer protection and an innovative, accessible legal services market. We are looking at whether current professional indemnity insurance requirements are the right ones, and have gathered historic claims data. We will gather further evidence as we develop proposals for reform.

Consulting on a new waivers policy: We are making progress on a new waivers policy, with a single set of simplified criteria aligned to our regulatory objectives and policy statement. This links to further development of SRA Innovate.

Objective two

We will work with solicitors and firms to raise standards and uphold core professional principles.

SQE: The second SQE consultation closed in January 2017, after extensive engagement with solicitors, representative bodies, the public, academics, educational institutions and students. In April 2017, the board decided to introduce the SQE. This will provide a gold standard for consumers who will know that solicitors have had their core knowledge and skills assessed on a consistent basis.

Solicitor apprenticeships: We will continue to support this "earn as you learn” route to becoming a solicitor, which will help to develop a diverse profession that reflects the communities it serves.

Continuing competence: The new approach to continuing professional development maintains standards by asking all solicitors to make an annual declaration of competence and keep their knowledge up to date.

Decision making: 2015/16 saw us revise our criteria and guidance to help our decision-makers assess the thousands of issues that are referred to us each year. We will embed and improve this guidance in the coming year.

Enforcement Strategy: Following the Question of Trust campaign, we will revise and publish our Enforcement Strategy, making sure our action against solicitors and firms that fall short of poor standards is clear, proportionate and consistently applied. We will consult on this as part of our Looking to the Future programme.

Risk Outlooks: We will publish our annual and issue-specific Risk Outlooks to protect the public by helping firms identify and manage risks and problems in the legal sector.

Objective three

We will improve our operational performance and make justifiable decisions promptly, effectively and efficiently.

Operational activities: We want to offer high-quality services to the public and the profession, and will introduce new processes and better IT. We will continue to make significant improvements in our operational activity. We will deliver these changes alongside work to create a stronger focus on delivering high levels of performance.

Key performance indicators (KPIs): Improved performance over the last two years has allowed us to review a number of our KPIs. We have set new, more challenging KPIs for 2016/17, to continue to improve our performance and service.

Modernising IT: New IT systems are being developed to replace our dated software, making it easier for people to do business with us and laying the foundations for long-term savings. We are putting our users at the heart of our programme, including the public, firms of all sizes and individual solicitors. We will be testing any emerging systems directly with our customers.

Objective four

We will work with our stakeholders to improve the quality of our services and their experience when using them.

Events and roadshows: Public and professional input is essential to our work and we will build on our programme of events and outreach, seeking feedback on the development of our regulatory approach and raising awareness of our work. Through seminars, focus groups and Board meetings across England and Wales, we will adopt a new approach to Board engagement with key stakeholders.

Writing the SRA Way: We will do more to improve the way in which we communicate with the public and those we regulate, so that our services are accessible and using them is straightforward. We will review our interpretation and translation policies to help consumers from all communities. We regulate in England and Wales, so publishing more in Welsh is a priority for us.

Social media and digital channels: Reaching all our stakeholders in the way that suits them best is important. As well as doing more on social media, we will improve both our own website and the consumer-facing Legal Choices website that we run on behalf of the joint legal regulators.

EDI: We will carry out partnership-working on matters such as transgender issues and professional wellbeing. This will support a modern and effective profession. We will be collecting and publishing firm diversity data in 2017.

Transparency: We will provide information in meaningful ways through, for example, this new Annual Review and publishing all responses to our consultations. We will revise our publications and fair processing policies, so that everyone knows what to expect of us. We will also take further steps to develop a regulatory register for the public.

Complaints about our service

We are committed to dealing with everyone fairly and transparently. We recognise that we sometimes make mistakes and we look to resolve any problems about our service quickly.

Corporate complaints may be about issues such as how long we are taking to deal with a case, not explaining things clearly, or not considering all relevant information.

It's not only important to put things right for complainants, but we must also learn from their feedback. The key areas in which we will continue to make further improvements in the coming year are:

Publishing better information about when we may take action against a solicitor

We receive a number of complaints about solicitors that we cannot help with. Sometimes the Legal Ombudsman may be better placed to deal with the concern, or there has been a very minor breach of our rules that does not require a full investigation. We aim to improve the information on our website, create a series of advice leaflets to better signpost people to sources of help, and strengthen the advice we give to stakeholders when they call our Contact Centre.

Written communications

When we handle complaints about solicitors, we know we must be clear and transparent. Our tone of voice initiative, Writing the SRA Way, has improved our written communications as we work to make our written work accessible and straightforward to understand. Our complaints data already suggests that our writing is improving but we will continue to work hard on this. We have already begun to see a considerable decrease in the number of upheld complaints where we failed to explain matters clearly.

Customer service

This year we intend to focus further on customer service excellence and develop our core service standards. The statistics from complaints suggest that the work we have done so far, in introducing key performance indicators and service levels, has made a significant difference. Again, we have seen a considerable decrease in the number of upheld complaints related to delay, but we know we have more to do to improve timeliness.

The 2015/16 Annual Report from Ombudsman Services, our independent reviewer, commented: "We have found much to commend the SRA for when reviewing the standard of its written responses to complainants. We feel that in the vast majority of cases, the SRA is doing an excellent job of understanding the issues complainants have raised and then responding to them”.

Useful links

Accounts Rules Review consultation

Anti money laundering report

Competition and Markets Authority market study

Compensation fund

Continuing competence

Corporate complaints

Decision making

Disciplinary Procedure Rules

Education and Training: A report on authorisation and monitoring activity for the period 1 September 2013 to 31 August 2014

Enforcement strategy

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equivalent means

Flexibility and Public Protection consultation

International Conference of Legal Regulators

Law firm diversity tool

Law Firm Search

Legal Choices

Looking to the Future

Public meetings

Regulatory Data and Consumer Choice in Legal Services

Regulatory reform programme

Regulatory Settlement Agreement

Risk Outlook

Risk Outlook: IT security

Risk Outlook: Solicitors and Investment fraud

Risk Outlook: Exiting the EU: An update for lawyers

Regulated population statistics

Small firms

Social media at the SRA

Solicitors Regulation Authority

Solicitors Qualifying Examination proposal

SQE consultation two

SRA Innovate

Trailblazer Solicitor Apprenticeship

Training for Tomorrow

Upcoming events

Values

Virtual reference groups (Looking to the Future, Solicitors Qualifying Examination, SRA Innovate, Small Firms, Diversity Matters)

Warning notices

Youth court advocacy

Ombudsman Services Annual Report