The legal services market is changing fast. The main regulatory body for solicitors, the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA), is introducing new standards and regulations in order to keep pace.

New Standards and Regulations for Solicitors

Much of this change has been driven by the Competition and Markets Authority who in their 2016 report on competition in the legal services market found that competition was not working well for consumers and small business and regulation should be more flexible and risk based.  

The same report has already driven change relating to price transparency by forcing law firms to publish their fees on their websites in connection with certain legal services such as conveyancing, probate, debt recovery, employment law and road traffic law.

The new SRA Standards and Regulations will come into force on 25 November 2019.  

The new regulatory model aims to have a shorter and more targeted set of rules that focus on protecting the public and their money, reducing the regulatory burden on solicitors and law firms and allowing them more freedom to exercise their professional judgement.  

The key changes being introduced include:

(a) A new set of SRA Principles.

(b) Shorter accounts rules.

(c) New and separate codes of conduct for individual solicitors as well as solicitors’ firms.

(d) Solicitors are allowed to carry out ‘non-reserved’ legal work such as will writing, initial legal advice and some employment law, from within a business not regulated by a legal services regulator.

(e) Solicitors are allowed to provide ‘reserved legal services’ which, in short, comprise court advocacy, litigation, probate, conveyancing, acting as notary and administering oaths, on a freelance basis.

(f) Changes to the disciplinary rules.

New SRA Principles

All solicitors will be subject to seven core principles.  These are the fundamental tenets of ethical behaviour that the SRA expects from all of those that it regulates, whether as individual solicitors or solicitor’s firms.

In summary, the revised SRA Principles are to (1) uphold the rule of law (2) uphold public trust (3) act with independence (4) act with honesty (5) act with integrity (6) encourage diversity (7) act in the best interests of each client.

Accounts Rules

The existing SRA Accounts Rules which comprise 52 rules are to be reduced to just 13.  

Separate Codes of Conduct for Individual Solicitors and Solicitors Firms

While the new set of principles will be common to individuals and firms, there are to be two new codes of conduct.

There will be a code of conduct for solicitors and a code of conduct for firms.  In essence, both codes are there to ensure that the solicitors and firms are upholding the SRA Principles.  Both codes are much shorter (about 6 pages down from 45 pages) and simpler than the existing SRA Code of Conduct.  

Freedom for Solicitors to Carry Out Non-Reserved Legal Activities

An individual solicitor providing non-reserved legal activities will no longer have to be authorised by the SRA.  They will be permitted to provide non-reserved legal activities on a freelance basis.  

Freelance Solicitors Providing Reserved Legal Activities

Although in general, individual solicitors will still only be able to provide reserved legal activities through SRA authorised firms, individual solicitors will also be able to provide reserved legal services on a freelance basis so long as they satisfy various requirements.  Amongst other things, the solicitors will need to have practiced for 3 years or more, must practice in their own name, employ no one else in connection with the services they provide, maintain professional indemnity insurance and to hold no client money unless it is on account of costs and expenses.

New Disciplinary Rules

The disciplinary rules have been amended along with the SRA Enforcement Strategy.

Comment

The SRA have realised that shorter and more concise rules were required together with greater flexibility and freedom for solicitors to compete with other legal services providers in an increasing de-regulated legal services market.  

Time will tell whether the rules are too short and leave too much uncertainty and ambiguity for solicitors in their daily conduct.  Also, whether solicitors will grab the opportunities being afforded to them and to start competing with other legal services providers.  

Further Information

Should you require any further assistance or information about the new SRA Standards and Regulations, please do not hesitate to contact Mr Bill Dhariwal, Managing Director of Lawcomm Solicitors, on DDI: 01489 864 117 or E: bill.dhariwal@lawcomm.co.uk.

The contents of this article are for information only and does not constitute advice.