Why IBs mean an uneven playing field

Legal Futures has reported today on their sneaky peak of the new SRA Handbook, due for publication on 6th April.

We already know a  great deal about what to expect, including the new concept of “indicative behaviours”.  That is to say non mandatory actions by solicitors which will indicate whether or not they are achieving the outcomes required under the new outcomes focussed regulation regime.  As they are non mandatory, if solicitors choose not to follow them, they may do so, but will have to present a compelling case to the SRA as to why their new systems and processes deliver the required outcome.

Of course outcomes focussed regulation, by its very definition means ambiguity.  Not a concept that sits naturally with lawyers.  Legal Edge is aware that many solicitors’ approach to the new regime, ironically will involve tightening up, rather than relaxing their processes and systems.  Why?  Well at least with the old rule book, lawyers knew that so long as they followed the code then they were ticking all the proverbial boxes.  The new “well its up to you to interpret the rules as you see fit” regime is all well and good until that does not fit with the SRA’s interpretation.  This is not a risk many lawyers are prepared to take.  Expect to see a lengthening in client care letters rather than shortening: at least until a bank of precedents begins to appear from the SRA demonstrating what their interpretation of the outcomes should look like.

Of course new entrant ABSs will be less constrained by these new regulations, having not being exposed to the previous SRA regime.  Ironically their approach is likely to be much more in line with the original ambitions of OFR, that is to say a customer centric approach to the delivery of legal services.

So whilst OFR is a boon to all the potential ABS wannabes out there, it will likely be tying up existing practitioners in knots trying to decipher how ambiguity and compliance have become bedfellows.  Our advice to solicitors – skill up as much as possible on the new regime.  The SRA are running roadshows over the coming months, which should be a must on practitioners’ calendars.

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