SRA head: We need to treat solicitors as adults

Plant outlines priorities for change; corporate regulation group to be based in the City

Charles Plant
Charles Plant

Transformation and modernisation are at the heart of the SRA’s agenda, SRA chair Charles Plant has declared.

In a wide-ranging speech at The Lawyer’s sixth annual Strategic Risk Management Conference yesterday, he presented his vision of an SRA that promoted “modern regulation that treats solicitors as adults, not tying them up in red tape and bureaucracy.”

 “We are in a period of unprecedented change and there are challenges for all of us,” he said in his opening address, adding that “the whole profession needs to adapt to change.”

At the heart of the SRA’s transformation is the introduction of outcomes-focused regulation that promises to offer a more flexible approach for firms, and a new Solicitors Code of Conduct.

It will see the SRA take a lighter approach with firms that consistently complied with regulations, but clampdown heavily on those that did not.

“The key point is that firms and solicitors who respond positively will be able to enjoy a more constructive relationship with the SRA,” he said. “They will experience lighter supervision. Those firms who do not can expect to be dealt with severely.”

The SRA has come in for heavy criticism over the last year, particularly in the Law Society commissioned Smedley review and Hunt report (see story), and City practitioners who felt their interests were not being represented.

Plant acknowledged some of the criticisms were justified, and accepted that in the past it had been too focused on “prescriptive box ticking”.

But he argued the organisation had improved relations with major commercial firms, reaffirmed its independence from the Law Society and introduced a leaner and more efficient management structure.

He also announced the creation of an office near Cannon Street, which will house a new corporate regulation group to develop relationships with firms in the corporate sector and strengthen ties with the City. The SRA is in the process of finding someone to head up the group.

The SRA currently has around 600 staff split between its offices inRedditch and Leamington Spa. Another priority for the new-look board is to merge the offices at a new location in the West Midlands.

Other expected changes include the SRA board being made up of a majority of lay professionals within the next two to three years.

The new code of conduct will come into force on the same day that ABS is introduced, October 6, 2011.

The SRA is keen for set of rules to govern both traditional law firms and ABS to “create a level playing field for consumers,” which is why the new code will be introduced on the same day.

Plant admitted: “This is ambitious, we are under no illusions of the challenges this presents us.”