The SRA's Looking to the Future consultations
The SRA is currently considering the numerous responses it received to its Looking to the Future - flexibility and public protection consultation held in the summer on changes to the Code of Conduct. We are not expecting to hear the outcome of these deliberations before April 2017.
Crucially, the SRA proposals would enable solicitors to work for unregulated entities providing unreserved legal activities to the public. Such solicitors would be subject to a new Code of Conduct for Solicitors, but the organisations they work for would not be subject to the SRA's proposed new Code of Conduct for Firms, which will continue to uphold a range of current protections for clients and consumers.
In its response, the Law Society argued that the proposals could weaken protections for consumers and undermine the global reputation of the legal sector. The response went on to say that the proposals ran the risk of creating a two-tier solicitor profession.
The Law Society also published an economic report pointing out that far from driving choice and tackling unmet legal need, the SRA's proposals would be likely to cause consumer confusion. The report argued that the SRA had not done enough to demonstrate that the positive impacts of the proposals were sufficient to outweigh the negative impacts and that the SRA was making mistaken assumptions about users of legal services and had not properly defined 'unmet legal need' - a key justification for the proposals.
The Law Society also published results from a consumer poll and a member survey on the SRA's proposals, both of which showed overwhelming opposition to the SRA's proposals.
Since the SRA consultation closed in September, the Law Society has continued to express concerns in its meetings with key stakeholders.
We will continue to push the following key messages in articles, thought pieces and in forthcoming meetings with interested charities:
- The problems consumers currently face in accessing legal services will not be answered by creating a two-tier solicitor profession and undermining public confidence
- The proposed changes would result in the lowering of standards and create consumer confusion.
- The SRA's proposals will devalue the solicitor profession under the guise of representing consumer interests.
- The justifications for change given by the SRA such as improving access to justice are not supported by evidence and detract from the real story which is about a properly funded legal aid system.
- There is a risk that solicitors' competency will be damaged due to the relaxation of training and experience requirements for setting up a firm (supervision of solicitors).
The Law Society is very aware that it should continue to work hard on this issue, even though there is a hiatus while the SRA assesses the responses received and deliberates on how it intends to take matters forward.