Regulatory reforms ‘bedding in’ as fresh challenges come over the horizon
Late last year we introduced our new Standards and Regulations - a real change in how we regulate.
Gone are many of the technical rules that prescribed every detail of how firms should operate. Gone too are those requirements which did little to protect the user of legal services. In their place is a sharp focus on the professional standards and a regime which places more trust in your judgement, giving you greater flexibility.
Here to help
Three months in, it’s too early to draw conclusions about the impact of the changes. We will be doing full reviews after one, three and five years. But so far the early signs are positive.
Many of the changes we have brought in are about making compliance simpler, getting out of your way where we can, and offering new opportunities.
So we are pleased to see that there are already people who are taking the opportunity to work as a freelance solicitor. It’s also good to hear from firms who have made changes on the back of our simplification of our Accounts Rules, which are tightly focused on what really matters - keeping clients’ money safe. It’s interesting to hear a good number of firms have switched to using a third-party-managed account.
Of course, any new approach takes time to settle in and we want to make sure you have every chance to take advantage of the new flexibilities.
So we will be running a series of sessions at LegalEx explaining our new rules and the ways you can work differently: from our new Account Rules to new opportunities to work outside a regulated law firm; common compliance issues we are seeing to how we are developing our thinking on legal technology.
Headline challenges for 2020
And of course, our new Standards and Regulations are not the only thing that should be on everyone’s radar. One of the big areas of change which should already be on your agendas is tackling money laundering.
The Government’s new money laundering regulations, which only came into force in January, require you to take an even more proactive approach to make sure you don’t get involved in any activities which may be linked to laundered money. This issue, and the legislation which underpins the UK’s response, is developing rapidly. Our experts will be running sessions at LegalEx to provide updates on this area and explain what is expected of law firms.
There are also big changes coming up to how solicitors qualify. In order to ensure that all aspiring solicitors meet consistent, high standards for qualifying solicitors, we are due to introduce a single, centralised assessment - the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) - in 2021.
This year we are going through the final stages of development of the new assessment, working closely with a range of experts, from academics to solicitors. Many law firms and universities have made good progress in preparing themselves for implementation.
Our LegalEx session ‘SQE- what it means for your firm’ should help you understand what the changes may mean for solicitors, your staff and your firm and how you recruit and train the next generation of solicitors who will work for you.
Other issues on the horizon
The issues which will impact our sector are of course not just limited to these ‘big themes’. We will be running a range of sessions to help you manage some of the big risks law firms face, such as the ever-growing threat of cybercrime or criminals targeting solicitors to legitimise dubious investment schemes. We will also have sessions sharing best practice on how you can realise the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workplace and how the profession ensures continuing competence.
We know that legal professionals are under a lot of pressure - juggling the demands of winning business, delivering legal services, keeping up with good practice and being on top of all your obligations. Our thirteen sessions and our stand (356) at LegalEx should hopefully make that a little easier - providing useful information on a range of topics, as well as giving you the opportunity to get your queries answered.
Jane Malcolm, SRA, Executive Director of External and Corporate Affairs