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SRA Unveils Slimline Handbook and Codes

By Monidipa Fouzder >> The professions has been given an unprecedented 16 weeks to air its views on the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s ambitious plans to simplify its hefty handbook and code of conduct.

More than 18 months after promising an era of simplified regulation, the regulator last week published plans for separate codes of conduct for solicitors and firms as part of its ‘Looking for the Future’ consultation.

The current handbook, which sets out the expectations for solicitors and firms, has more than 400 pages of rules, including a code of conduct of around 30 pages. The SRA said the new shorter version will focus on principles and professional standards rather than complex, prescriptive rules. The two new codes will be no more than seven pages apiece.

The new regime would give solicitors greater freedom to deliver legal services outside regulated firms. “That will give the public more choice, increasing across to high quality legal services at a price they can afford” chief executive Paul Phillip said.

The SRA is also consulting on a shorter set of accounts rules. These would narrow the definition of ‘client money’, allowing payments for fees, to be treated the firm’s money. Funds held for payments for which the client is liable would continue to be treated as client money.

The consultations close on 21 September. A second phase of the regulator’s consultation, focusing on the practice framework and authorisation rules, will take place later this year.

Announcing the measures last week, SRA executive director Crispin Passmore acknowledged a danger of ‘consultation fatigue.’ However, he said: “If we don’t consult, we’re just steamrolling, if we don’t consult for long enough it’s because we don’t listen…We’ve just got to get the balance right and have ongoing dialogue.”