These Handbook changes just don't make sense.
I would be very cautious about publishing my prices online.
These were just two of the points raised by attendees at this Law Society breakfast, which looked at regulatory issues facing the profession. The event was held in response to members’ interest in the work of the Law Society’s Regulatory Affairs Unit, the major issues on the horizon and how they can get involved.
The morning focused on three issues:
- the upcoming overhaul of the SRA Handbook
- the drive for greater price and service transparency
- changes to the routes for qualification and entry to the profession.
Joe Egan, Law Society president, and Mark Hudson, head of relationship management for London and the South East, welcomed everyone and set the scene.
Before introducing the team, Sophia Adams-Bhatti, director of legal and regulatory policy, said: ‘the Regulatory Affairs Unit does a lot of work on behalf of members - gathering views, lobbying the SRA, and building coalitions across the sector to fight for solicitors. But I don't know whether the team itself is that visible so we hoped this event would both raise the team's profile and keep members up to date on developments,’
Biggest change for the profession
The single biggest change facing the profession is probably the SRA's overhaul of the Handbook. Marzena Lipman, policy adviser in the regulatory affairs team, outlined the key changes and some of the implications and said that further consultation on the second phase of reforms will take place in the autumn.
Attendees were concerned about the splitting of the current Code of Conduct into two shorter codes - one for firms and one for individual solicitors. Without indicative behaviours and with fewer clear rules, solicitors could face compliance challenges.
Much of the discussion concentrated on the change which would allow solicitors to deliver non-reserved activities from unregulated firms. Will clients be able to tell the difference between solicitors in different types of firms? And would they know they had less protection? These views echoed the Law Society's concerns which were so forcefully outlined to the SRA last year.
Price and service transparency rules
The SRA is also consulting on new rules for price and service transparency in the autumn.
Michael Lonergan, policy adviser, gave an overview of what has happened since the Competition and Markets Authority began the drive for transparency in December 2016. He also set out what the consultation would cover, and the bulk of the discussion was naturally about publishing price information online.
Attendees were concerned about how to publish an accurate and meaningful price on a website, given prices can be vary so much depending on the client's circumstances and legal issues. Even with more transactional services like conveyancing and wills, doing this without talking to the client can be difficult. The Law Society has warned the SRA that any changes must be helpful and not misleading to clients.
There was a strong view that a client care letter can reflect the actual price better rather than a standardised estimate published on a website.
President Joe Egan talked about his own experience, and that his firm publishes fixed prices for wills and divorce services on its website. However, he wasn't sure that being this transparent with his firm's prices had necessarily brought in more clients.
The Law Society has produced a transparency toolkit to help members.
Education and apprenticeships
Changes to the routes to qualification are due to be launched after further consultations. Chenab Mangat, regulatory policy manager, talked through the upcoming Solicitors Qualifying Examination which will replace the existing routes to qualification from 2020. We noted it was positive that the SRA had worked constructively to address Law Society concerns in the past. However, we have made the case to there is still a lot of detail to be worked through.
Chenab also encouraged firms to consider taking on apprentices - including in non-legal roles such as office managers. While many attendees were open to the idea, very few had taken on apprentices due to the time and cost involved. Chenab discussed the government's ‘co-investment’ scheme, where the firm pays 10 per cent of the training costs and the government paying the remaining 90 per cent, and the general benefits we've learnt from our case studies for both firms and apprentices.
For more information
See our regulation of the profession section or email firstname.lastname@example.org.