Small law firms ‘unprepared’ for SRA reforms

Small law firms ‘unprepared’ for SRA reforms

More than half of small law firms are unprepared for upcoming Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) reforms, according to LexisNexis.

The information and analytics firm’s research, the result of two surveys of more than 200 lawyers across the country supported by 12 in-depth interviews with lawyers in small firms and small offices of larger firms, revealed that 57% of respondents were simply unaware that the SRA is proposing regulatory changes likely to take effect later this year.

The SRA’s Looking to the Future reforms aim to simplify how consumers access the services of solicitors and law firms while ensuring that high professional standards are maintained.

Key concerns raised by respondents included:

  • 70% believe that the reforms could compromise the ability of regulated firms to compete effectively with solicitors working outside regulated law firms
  • 70% said that the reforms could have the long-term effect of lowering legal standards in the market
  • 65% think the regulatory change will increase the level of competition in the market
  • 49% of respondents describe the changes around the sale of non-reserved legal activities as a ‘risk’ to their profession
  • Only 16% believe the reform represents an opportunity

Jon Whittle, market development director at LexisNexis UK, commented: “At a time when solicitors appear disillusioned with regulatory bodies, the findings raise real questions over the SRA’s relationship with smaller law firms and its strategy when it comes to reform. The SRA is there to ensure standards are maintained, but it needs to act in a way that does not alienate the firms with which it works. There is a pervasive concern that reforms could drive unfair levels of competition, compromise the rule of law, and lead to a race to the bottom, fundamentally damaging business reputation and bottom line.”

“While everyone polled recognised that the regulator’s primary role is to support the interests of clients, few professionals in small and independent law firms see a compelling argument for these reforms and even less have considered what action they should take as a result. However, whilst the SRA has work to do, it is still, to some extent, the responsibility of small firms themselves to keep up-to-date with industry developments and reform.”

The LexisNexis research also revealed that:

  • 64% believe that the law is becoming more of a job than a profession; and 46% see themselves as business people more than lawyers
  • 58% of respondents do not believe that the SRA has adequately represented small and independent law firms in its formulation of policy and regulation
  • 55% of the solicitors polled believe that the changes will make no difference to their firm as they simply don’t know enough to judge
  • 40% of respondents see no need to change
  • 44% believe the reforms will provide lawyers with more flexible career choices
  • 5% of the solicitors polled articulated that this is a necessary change for the profession, making competition fairer, improving careers and giving solicitors and clients more options
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Mark Dugdale

Mark is the Editor of Yorkshire Legal. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached by emailing mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk