SRA picks ex-Linklaters star to build bridges with City

Solicitors’ watchdog stops short of creating separate division for leading firms

Nick Eastwell
Nick Eastwell

The former head of Linklaters’ emerging markets practice has been named chief adviser to City law firms, as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) moves to address recommendations made in a damning report into how the profession is policed.

The appointment of Nick Eastwell to a non-executive role follows the publication of Nick Smedley’s report, published last March.

However, the SRA has stopped short of introducing a separate division for City regulation, as recommended by Smedley.

Eastwell will act as a ’bridge’ between the SRA and City firms. The regulator has been criticised in the past for being more relevant to smaller practices and not having an understanding of the needs of major international firms.

The new role, which will see Eastwell provide advice to the SRA board and executive team on issues relating specifically to the City, has been designed to address this perception.

“There was a feeling that the old system was more relevant for small firms,” Eastwell told The Lawyer. “This is a recognition of the need to have people with City expertise look at how City firms run their businesses.

“It recognises that City law firms are pretty mature, well-run businesses with extremely robust risk and compliance procedures that don’t need the same regulation as smaller firms.”
He added that while there was “an element of ’suck it and see’” to his appointment, he expected firms to be happy with the move.

One City partner with responsibility for compliance issues said he welcomed the appointment, but added that the SRA could have gone further to embrace last year’s report.

“We can’t have a regulator that doesn’t understand the market it’s regulating,” said the partner. “The FSA’s now delivering a far more collaborative approach to regulation and this is important for that.

“There’s been remarkably little regulation for City firms to date and that’s what Smedley was addressing. I think they should have stuck more closely to Smedley but this is along the right lines.”

Eastwell, who will begin his new role in November, left Linklaters in October 2009. He will continue to work part-time at legal headhunter SR Search, as well as acting as consultant for Linklaters’ eastern Europe spin-off, ­Kinstellar.