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The new Solicitors' Code of Conduct was unleashed on the legal profession yesterday (1 July) after five years in the making.
The new code has cut radically the number of obscure rules that made up its 900-page predecessor The Guide to the Professional Conduct of Solicitors, which was first published in 1960.
However, the most fundamental change in the 270-page rulebook, brought in by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), is the provision for business management under Rule 5.
The rule brings in a raft of amendments, including one that states any solicitor who wants to set up alone or run a practice will have to be qualified to supervise as opposed to just reaching three-year PQE.
Bronwen Still, head of policy in the SRA's professional ethics division, said Rule 5 and other rules will also be a good springboard to assist solicitors as the legal profession repositions itself for the enforcement of the Legal Services Act.
"The code will allow for a new era of flexibility for solicitors and gives clarity," explained Still. "It tries to give bigger firms more flexibility to meet their clients' needs in relation to conflicts of interest and allows firms, through business management, to set up their systems so they're most suitable to them."
The redrafting of the code came about because the rules and principles of the past 20 years have grown organically, resulting in a proliferation of rules and codes grafted on to existing rules alongside non-statutory principles that also set conduct requirements.
Still said: "The way the code grew meant that solicitors could not easily tell what was mandatory and what was not, resulting in a confusing mix of obligations.
"The new code of conduct was about introducing a set of cohesive rules that clearly distinguish between what's mandatory and what's guidance."
The SRA told The Lawyer that no period of grace will be given to solicitors who do not comply with the new code.
An SRA spokesman said, for practical reasons, lawyers have until 1 October to change letter-headed paper to state "regulated by the SRA" instead of the Law Society, but that other rules would become effective immediately.