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Proposed changes to the SRA Handbook: Current SRA Consultations

On 27th September, the SRA launched its second consultation paper on reform of the Solicitors Handbook.  Phase One, which began in June 2016, involved a shortening of the Code of Conduct and Accounts Rules and proposals to allow practising solicitors to deliver unreserved services to the public from non-regulated organisations.

'Looking to the future' SRA Consultation: Better information, more choice Price Comparison

A second SRA consultation, also published on the 27th September (and following on from the the Competition and Markets Authority's study into legal services), proposes plans for law firms to publish price lists on their websites, along with descriptions of the services included in that price, in a number of specific areas. These include private client work (drafting of wills, probate / estate administration and drafting lasting powers of attorney);  family work (both undefended divorces and financial disputes arising out of a divorce ); residential conveyancing (limited to sale, purchase and remortgage); motoring offences; personal injury claimant work; employment tribunals . For small businesses, firms would have to publish their prices for employment tribunal and debt recovery work, along with licensing applications in relation to business premises.

The SRA aims to "improve the amount of meaningful information available to consumers, to create a more competitive market", which it says will not only benefit the public directly, but also indirectly by making it available to data re-publishers, such as comparison websites. It has warned against any law firms offering “bait pricing”, or offering unrealistically low prices which were never available in practice, which could breach the rules on price transparency as well as new Code of Conduct rules on providing accurate publicity.

Other proposals include:

• Building a digital register of firms and individuals the SRA regulates together in one place and making this available to the public.

• Publishing data on client's first-tier complaints made against law firms and their areas of practice in a new dedicated register.

• Requiring firms to make information on the SRA's regulatory protections available – this includes the use of an SRA logo and digital badge, which will help fully regulated firms to benchmark themselves against other legal providers in the market.

• To require solicitors working in non-Legal Services Act regulated firms to inform clients that they are not subject to the SRA requirements for compulsory professional indemnity insurance and hence the clients would be unable to make a claim on the Compensation Fund.

The Law Society has been particularly vocal in its critiscism of these plans, saying it was 'counter-intuitive' to force regulated entities to publish data while leaving unregulated bodies free to ignore the requirement. They do not think the proposals will result in the changes to consumers’ behavior the SRA is looking for, and they can see a number of challenges and risks for smaller firms. For example, there is a risk that complaints information damages the reputation of smaller firm's more than larger firms.

A copy of the Consultation can be viewed here

Both SRA Consultations will run until 20 December 2017

Contact

For more information, please contact Philippa Varcoe on + 44 20 7743 7317 or Philippa.Varcoe@dwf.law

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This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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