Slimming down the SRA handbook

Martina Hogg offers her perspective on proposals to slim down the SRA handbook.

60 seconds with Martina Hogg, Lead Compliance Consultant

So the handbook is being slimmed down further. Less rules means less work, that must be a good thing?

I am not entirely convinced, in fact there is reason to suspect the opposite might be true. Prescriptive rules may be out of favour but there was a certain comfort with that regime. It was very clear that you could do this and you could not do that. Whilst over the years I have heard many solicitors complain about the regulator I have not heard them actually say that the Code of Conduct (or indeed any of its predecessors) took up too much space on the bookshelf. I do think that the assumption lawyers wants less rules is a little perverse. They are lawyers after all.

But prescriptive rules mean that it is harder to be innovative and innovation could lead to cost reductions and a better outcome for consumers.

I am not against innovation. It could lead to a reduction in costs but it could also lead to a reduction in the quality of legal services on offer. In addition, I am not sure it is for the regulator to try to drive costs up or down or create competition. The profession are perfectly capable tailoring their services to meet clients’ demands and needs without any rule change. If you want to talk about innovation then I suspect that the developments in the IT sector, with ever more increasingly sophisticated case management systems, will have had a far more significant impact on the way lawyers run their business than all the rule changes put together.

The regulator would do well to remember that low cost and value for money are not the same things.

So you think the proposed slim line Handbook is bad thing?

No. I am just concerned that I have not seen any evidence that supports the need for even more change at this time. As I said at the beginning, I often hear lawyers complain about the regulator but I have never heard any lawyer complain that the Handbook is too long. It is not about how many rules you have, two, twenty or two hundred; it is all about how you apply them.

Where does that leave the profession then?

Well, new Handbook or no new Handbook the message is simple. Lawyers need to keep running their businesses to the same high standards they always have. This means knowing your business inside out and ensuring you have the right policies, procedures and people in place to maintain those standards. Like any profession, there will be the odd rotten apple and the SRA may wish to consider devoting time and energy to removing those rotten apples rather than rewriting the Handbook.

It is regrettable that the SRA does not appear to appreciate that this seemingly endless round of consultation and change will itself increase the costs of regulation. Rather than knowing for certain exactly what they are planning for, those running firms are also having to consider multiple contingency plans based on a series of best guesses as to what the SRA might do next.

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