New solicitors' rulebook begins to take shape
Code of conduct to be slashed to a just 10 pages, reveals Crispin Passmore
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has outlined proposals to reduce its code of conduct to just 10 pages.
Speaking at ARK's Legal IT conference earlier this year, Passmore indicated that the handbook would be cut down to size, from 600 pages to nearer 50.
Opening the SRA Innovate conference in London this week, the regulator's executive director of regulation, Crispin Passmore, offered more information on the format of the new handbook, with its code of conduct comprising just five pages of rules for firms and five pages for individuals.
Passmore explained that the revamped code will describe new principles and outcomes that must govern ethical lawyer behaviour. He added that the SRA are 'giving you the freedom to put that into practice in your business'.
The proposed new handbook will place obligations on firms themselves, suggesting that the regulator may not do away with entity-based regulation or the requirement for a compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) role, as some had speculated.
The regulator intends to consult on its plans during May and June, meaning any change would not be approved by the SRA board until autumn 2016.
Also during the conference, SRA chief executive Paul Philip announced the regulator's new 'Law Firm Search' tool, allowing prospective clients to check whether or not a solicitor or firm is authorised by the SRA or not.
The move potentially gives regulated solicitors and firms a competitive advantage over unregulated legal services businesses, alleviating concerns from some within the legal community.
Listing the information that will be retrieved by the search tool, Philip said the results would reveal 'hyperlinks to disciplinary findings', alongside a firm's SRA ID and number of offices.
The main conference sessions focused on new business models in the legal sector, with delegates being encouraged to think of innovative ways to tap into unmet legal need.
Karl Chapman, chief executive of Riverview Law, warned firms that tech start-ups in US Ivy League universities are already looking at ways for artificial intelligence to replace traditional law firms.
Meanwhile, a panel discussion chaired by Solicitors Journal's editor at large, Kevin Poulter, and including Legal Compliance Association board member Rachel Khiara, explored the pros and cons of several different legal services models, such as conversion to alternative business structure (ABS), stock-market flotation, and joining super boutique firms, networks, or franchises.
John Llewellyn-Lloyd, head of business and support services at Arden Partners, said that 'law firms often look for a reason not to [do something] rather than a reason to'. While Tony Williams, principal of Jomati Consultants, said the profession was in an 'evolutionary not revolutionary market'.
Andrew Evans, a partner at recently floated Gateley Plc, commented the 'SRA has changed the process and now legal businesses need to change the mindset.'
Leah Darbyshire is head of the Legal Compliance Association