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SRA to consult before April 2015 on revised regulation of in-house lawyers

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is planning to launch a consultation before April next year on revised regulatory requirements for solicitors working in-house.

In its Business Plan for 2015, published yesterday, the SRA said: “Our rules which set out the regulatory requirements for solicitors working in-house (i.e. employed solicitors delivering legal services to their employer and not, to the public generally), were not modernised when the SRA Handbook was published in October 2011.

“We believe that these requirements require re-examination and amendment to remain relevant to the way that in-house practice has developed in recent years. In 2014/15 we will be reviewing our current approach with a view to engaging with in-house practitioners and consulting on amended requirements by April 2015.”

News of the proposed consultation comes three months after the President of Lawyers in Local Government revealed how the SRA appeared to be moving away from the concept of the ‘employed solicitor’.

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Meetings between the regulator and LLG suggested that a new approach to regulation could be taken, based more upon risk proportionate to the vulnerability of the client.

The business plan for next year was launched at the same time as a new corporate strategy for the SRA, setting out its direction for the next three years.

The regulator has also published an equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.

Enid Rowlands, who will chair the SRA Board from 1 January 2015, said: "The publication of our corporate strategy sets out our priorities and how we will deliver them. I am committed to making us more transparent, open and accessible, ensuring genuine engagement and involvement. We will routinely publish details of our performance so everyone can see how we are working to meet expectations.

"And I am determined we will continue to improve our operational performance through developing our IT, our people and our processes, and doing everything we can to enhance the experience of those we regulate, the public and our stakeholders."

The SRA said its key aims – as set out in the corporate strategy – were to:

  • reform regulation “to enable growth and innovation in the market and to strike the right balance between reducing regulatory burdens and ensuring consumer protection work with solicitors and firms to improve standards and uphold core professional principles”;
  • improve operational performance and make fair and justifiable decisions “promptly, effectively and efficiently”; and
  • work with stakeholders to improve the quality of services and stakeholder experience of using them.

The stated aims of the Business Plan include to improve the SRA’s regulatory approach so that it is more proportionate and targeted, works better for consumers and those the watchdog regulates “in the increasingly diverse legal services market”.

The SRA also said it would seek to impose a reduced burden on those it regulates.

The watchdog added that its priorities were “identifying and removing, or reducing, structural regulatory barriers to innovation and growth” and “reducing regulatory burdens which are not proportionate or do not provide essential regulatory protections which cannot be achieved through more targeted and proportionate measures”.

The equality, diversity and inclusion strategy would – amongst other things – focus on the way the SRA operates, its rules and the decisions it makes, and the impact that has on those regulated.

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