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John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Technology 'part of the solution' to tackle sharp rise in SRA enforcement work

Technology 'part of the solution' to tackle sharp rise in SRA enforcement work


Interventions have doubled in first part of the year

The Solicitors Regulation Authority will rely partly on technology to respond to the challenge of a rising enforcement workload to keep operational costs and staff numbers down, it has emerged.

Minutes from the latest SRA board meeting held on 12 July show that the regulator has reduced expenditure from £30.9m in 2013-14 to £29.6m in 2015-16. Over the same period, headcount went from 462 to 430.

However, the minutes reveal, the SRA faced ongoing challenges with its enforcement work, including an 'increase in volumes in the disciplinary areas of work, which had been reflected in a higher number of cases taken to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and more interventions in relation to solicitors firms'.

Last year, the SRA referred 129 cases to the SDT. Of those, 75 resulted in strike-off, 52 in a fine, and 17 in suspension.

Speaking at a briefing taking place ten days after the meeting, SRA chief executive Paul Philip said 'IT would be part of the solution' and that it was unlikely that headcount would go up again if the SRA could demonstrate it was performing well at current staff levels.

The number of interventions were double from last year, he added, with a difference in the case mix and a wider variety of firms concerned.

There have been 20 interventions already in the first half of this year, compared with 36 for the whole of the previous year, the lowest number in recent years. Interventions peaked at 64 in 2010 but have generally gone down over the last seven years.

There was no data available about the size of firms but Philip said a number of interventions involved firms with multiple offices.

In a separate development, policy director Crispin Passmore confirmed a third consultation on the new handbook would be taking place in the autumn that would cover solicitors working in non-SRA regulated businesses.

The first part of the consultation will canvas the profession about the shortening of authorisation and disciplinary rules, the second will consider 'better data and information for consumers', as recommended by the Competition and Markets Authority in December last year.

'For solicitors in unregulated businesses, the consultation will consider what information they should be providing, how we can help consumers navigate a complicated legal market and what information helps them,' Passmore said.

Passmore also clarified that solicitors in unregulated organisations would not be required to carry professional indemnity insurance nor would the businesses themselves. 'The board has agreed we wouldn't require it for solicitors, and we can't require it from firms we don't regulate.'

'We came to the view there was no point requiring it from the individual because the client doesn't have a contractual relationship with the individual solicitor but with the business that employs them,' he went on. 'What we've got to be clear is they understand what they get depending on where they go. They can already go to an unregulated business '“ in reality, most of them have got PII. We just have to think what would help consumers make wise choices.'

Asked whether this would help point consumers towards regulated business, Passmore replied: 'We're not trying to point them anywhere; what we want to do is to give them choice and help them understand those choices, to make sure they end up on random journeys but make a choice which is suitable for what they need. Sometimes you might want quick and dirty advice, at other times you may want advice about a potentially life changing event.'

The briefing also saw the launch of a consultation on the SRA's corporate strategy, which will run until 21 September.

Jean-Yves Gilg is editor-in-chief of Solicitors Journal | @jeanyvesgilg