The SRA has recently announced major changes to the Handbook which it says will simplify existing rules and improve access to solicitors.
The current 30 page Code of Conduct and 400 pages of Rules that make up the Handbook are to be scrapped in favour of a revised Handbook. The first phase of change will provide for a separate Code of Conduct for solicitors and firms. The combined length of this new code will be just 14 pages.
The Solicitors Accounts Rules are also to be simplified.
A separate Code of Conduct for firms is to ensure that we are all clear about the systems and controls that we need to have in place in order to provide good legal services to the public.
The changes will also allow solicitors to work freely in the legal sector by removing rules that prevent solicitors from working in non-SRA regulated firms. The SRA says that this will improve access to solicitors, in more affordable ways.
The Solicitors Accounts Rules are being changed in order to ensure that firms are better able to comply with the rules. The SRA recognises that the current regime is too complex which can result in inadvertent technical breaches occurring.
The reforms will also enable firms to opt out of operating a client account if they only deal with fees and disbursements.
The Law Society has made it clear that they have grave concerns about the changes. They believe that it will leave clients with less protection particularly since unregulated firms will not require PI insurance. They are also very concerned about issues such as conflict, supervision of solicitors working in unregulated practices, not to mention the loss to clients of legal professional privilege in respect of confidential communication between themselves and their advisors.
The SRA says that the reforms will open up access to legal services for the benefit of consumers and simplify the rules in relation to a less inflexible form of regulation which places greater trust in the professions collective judgement.
The revised rules and principles are subject to further consultation and are due to come into force no earlier than Autumn 2018.
Simplification of the rules and regulations concerning solicitors sounds like a positive step, but the profession will have to give careful thought to the changes once the consultation process ends.