We respond to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) consultation on phase two of handbook reforms.
Following their first ’looking to the future’ consultation in summer 2016, the SRA published phase two in September 2017. This consultation includes further changes to the SRA Handbook, their proposed revised Enforcement Strategy and the transitional arrangements for introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
The consultation closed on 20 December 2017 but you can read the full proposals here.
Update: June 2018
The JLD response focused on three areas:
- removing the qualified to supervise rule
- assessing character and suitability before undertaking the LPC
- training regulations, in particular the transitional regulations to introduce the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)
We argued that the SRA should continue to provide early decisions on character and suitability before an individual embarks on the LPC.
The SRA responded to the consultation in June 2018, agreeing to retain early decisions [para 64]. We are pleased that our argument has persuaded the SRA that students would benefit from a formal decision before embarking on the cost and time commitment of training to be a solicitor.
Update: January 2019 - supervision requirements
In August 2018 the SRA applied to the Legal Services Board (LSB) to approve amendments to its regulatory arrangements in respect of the Handbook proposals.
In January 2019, following implementation, we wrote to the SRA regarding the new requirement for regulated firms to have an authorised person who has practised for three years and for freelancers delivering reserved legal services to have had three years of experience.
In particular, the JLD asked for clarification:
- that it is the SRA’s intention that a solicitor delivering unreserved legal services to the public/sections of the public through a non-Legal Services Act regulated business (while using their solicitor title) will not be required to have practiced as an authorised person for three years;
- that it is the SRA’s intention that a solicitor delivering unreserved legal services to the public/sections of the public through a non-LSA regulated business (while using their solicitor title) will not be required to be supervised by someone who has practiced as an authorised person for three years;
- in anticipation of the SRA’s positive confirmation of the intentions stated at 1 and 2 above, that the SRA does not intend to enforce any minimum requirement of number of years practicing as an authorised person before a solicitor can deliver unreserved legal activities through a non-LSA regulated business?
The SRA has responded as follows:
- The changes will be introduced in their new Standards and Regulations later this year.
- With regards to whether a solicitor delivering unreserved legal services to the public/sections of the public through a non-LSA regulated business (while using their solicitor title) will be required to have practiced as an authorised person for three years (or be supervised by someone who has), or whether there is no minimum requirement, there will be no minimum requirement in those circumstances.
As anyone, whether qualified or not, can provide unreserved legal services, the SRA think it would be an unjustified market restriction for a newly-qualified solicitor not to be able to do so. However, there will be safeguards and support in place for these solicitors. These include:
- All solicitors authorised by the SRA, no matter where they deliver legal services from, will be bound by its new code of conduct for individuals. In particular, this new code requires a solicitor to ensure the service they provide to clients is competent. It would be a breach of this requirement for a newly qualified solicitor to practice in an area they were not competent in.
- The SRA’s new approach to continuing competence and the new code for individuals require solicitors to maintain their competence to practise and keep their professional knowledge and skills up to date. Their new approach became compulsory for all solicitors in November 2016 and will therefore have been in force for over two years by the time its new rules are introduced.
- The SRA’s Ethics Helpline provides support for all solicitors (including, when the Standards and Regulations come into force, those wishing to provide unreserved legal services from non-LSA regulated businesses) who encounter difficult ethical questions.
- The SRA will provide guidance for solicitors working outside of regulated firms and guidance to help their employer understand that the solicitor is bound by its Standards and Regulations.
- In future, the SQE will mean all qualified solicitors have passed a rigorous assessment of their technical competence (although the SQE will not assess whether a candidate is competent to own or run a business).
The JLD welcomes this clarification from the SRA and is currently reviewing the practical implications of these reforms.
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