Helen Carr reflects on the past 12 months and looks ahead at what is coming up in the next year.
It has been a busy 2017 with barely any respite from the raft of consultations from the SRA, new rules and regulations, and lots of discussion about the forthcoming GDPR. Set out below is a snapshot of what are going to be key issues for firms in 2018.
In September the SRA released its consultation document on ‘Looking to the future: better information, more choice’. The key proposals are:
The proposal that has gained most attention is the requirement for firms to publish information on price and description for certain legal services. The SRA is looking at introducing the requirements initially for residential conveyancing and family law matters, but intends to expand the requirements to other types of services provided. It has also produced draft guidance on price and service transparency which contains examples of how the SRA envisages this would work in practice. The consultation closes on 20 December 2017.
This is another major aspect of proposed changes on which the SRA is currently consulting. This latest document moves us beyond the Code of Conduct (two new proposed Codes – one for individuals and one for firms) and looks at other features of the proposed new Handbook, including practice framework and authorisation rules. A key feature of the reforms is the removal of the restriction on in-house solicitors advising members of the public. As the SRA says, this would allow ’a solicitor to provide reserved legal services, in certain circumstances, on a freelance basis to the public.’ The consultation closes on 20 December 2017.
This year’s SRA COLP and COFA conference opened with a session on the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). The SRA is driving this forward, emphasising that ’The SQE is a new assessment to make sure all those entering the profession meet consistent, high standards.’ The proposal is that individuals wanting to qualify as a solicitor ’will have to have a degree or equivalent, have passed both parts of the SQE, undertaken two years’ qualifying work experience, and demonstrated satisfactory character and suitability.’ The consultation on these reforms has now closed but you can access information about the SRA’s ‘Training for Tomorrow’ initiatives on their website.
There has been so much publicity about the GDPR and the implementation date is not far away (25 May 2018). There are already a significant number of accessible resources available, and for anyone looking to get up to speed quickly on the requirements the Information Commissioner’s Office is an excellent starting point. The Law Society has also produced a range of resources to help firms navigate the issues.
Key features of the GDPR include enhanced individual rights, and greater responsibility and accountability for those who hold and/or process personal data. The fines for non-compliance can be substantial (’up to 20 000 000 EUR, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher’). There is still time to plan and implement the changes required by the GDPR, but you should start soon if you haven’t already.
The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (also known as the Money Laundering Regulations 2017) came into force in June 2017. Although they have been in force for six months or so, they are included in this list as they will remain a significant feature of practice in 2018. The Law Society has guidance and resources to help with compliance with the Regs, and at the time of writing we are waiting for the draft Anti-Money Laundering Guidance for the Legal Sector to be approved by HM Treasury.
Notable requirements of the 2017 Regulations include the need to conduct a money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessment, and new obligations relating to record keeping and the provision of information about beneficial ownership if you act as a trustee of a relevant trust. These are of course in addition to the requirements about having systems and process in place to prevent money laundering, providing training to staff, and complying with new customer due diligence, enhanced due diligence and simplified due diligence requirements. The Law Society has produced a helpful summary of the new Regulations on its website.
The pace of change shows no sign of letting up and 2018 will be a busy year!