News release

'Shorter, sharper, clearer' Handbook will benefit consumers and solicitors

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is proposing to increase access to legal services by removing unnecessary bureaucracy and freeing up solicitors to work in new markets.

The SRA wants to open up opportunities for solicitors to freely deliver services outside of regulated firms. Currently there is an expanding legal services market providing everything from will writing to advice on social welfare, employment or tax. However, the current rules restrict where and how solicitors can work.

The proposed changes would make it easier for solicitors, who are arguably best placed to provide quality services, to work in this expanding market. This could help push standards up while driving costs down. It could also help tackle the problem that many people and businesses still do not access the legal services they need. For example only 13 per cent of small businesses say that lawyers provide value for money.

The changes are part of the SRA's Looking to the Future consultation, which plans to radically simplify its Handbook. The current Handbook, which sets out the expectations for solicitors and firms, has more than 400 pages of rules, including a Code of Conduct of around 30 pages. The new shorter version will focus on principles and professional standards rather than complex, prescriptive rules. It will move away from a 'one size fits all' approach by having two separate codes - a Code of Conduct for solicitors and another for firms.

The aim is for solicitors to be absolutely clear about their obligations and responsibility to maintain professional standards. And for firms to have clarity about the systems and controls they need to provide good legal services to the public. By removing complexity and increasing flexibility, the SRA is planning to reduce the costs of compliance on firms and individuals, over the long term.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: "We want to move away from complex rules and unnecessary bureaucracy - bureaucracy that costs money and needs continuous updating. Our focus has to be on high professional standards set independently in the public interest. That can only be good for the profession and for the public.

"Some of the current rules are out of step with a legal market that is rapidly changing We plan to give solicitors more freedom to work outside regulated firms. That will give the public more choice, increasing access to high quality legal services at a price they can afford.

"Our proposals for a shorter, sharper and clearer Handbook will free up law firms and individual solicitors to get on with the business of delivering quality legal services, while making sure there is absolute clarity about public protection.”

Today's proposals are the first of two phases of the SRA's 'Looking to the Future' programme. The consultation will run for 16 weeks until 21 September 2016. The second phase of consultation will take place later this year, and will include a review of the detail of the Practice Framework Rules and authorisation rules.

Read the consultation on its Code of conduct and principles.

The SRA is also consulting separately on its Account Rules.

The SRA started engaging on how it regulates in the future, including its Handbook review, in a position paper in November 2015.

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