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Legal watchdog overhauls handbook to green light apprenticeships as it ushers in ‘inconceivable’ changes

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has inched closer to controversial apprenticeship qualifications while green lighting a raft of changes to the SRA handbook.

At a meeting this week the SRA board added a new apprentice pathway to qualify as a lawyer, affirmed relaxed rules for Alternative Business Structures (ABS) and announced its position on lawyers and consumer credit. 

The board made an addition to training regulations to include the new apprentice route to qualification, as approved by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. Apprenticeships under the Trailblazer Scheme could begin in September 2016, but plans have already been met with opposition by the City of London Law Society which warned ‘inconceivable’ changes could mean a fall in standards.   

SRA chief executive Paul Philip said the reforms ‘provide a greater opportunity for a wider range of talented people than ever before to enter the profession.’

Other changes approved yesterday include the relaxing of rules for ABS by removing the requirement for the SRA board to approve individual managers within ABS corporate owners. The SRA board also approved the removal of the seven-day notice requirement for deemed approved manager or owner applications.

The apprenticeship reform and other changes approved by the SRA board had already been through a consultation phase, and require Legal Services Board approval before coming into force.

Separately, the SRA board moved toward allowing certain consumer credit activities by lawyers to be permitted so long as their activities are central to the legal services the firm provides. The decision means firms will not have to be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and burdened with significant additional rules for consumer credit.

SRA Executive Director for Policy Crispin Passmore said the SRA had been working for a year to figure out the best way to regulate solicitors providing consumer credit services.

‘Everyone at the SRA and FCA has worked exceptionally hard to ensure that the proposals offer a balanced and proportionate approach to regulation for firms following the transfer of responsibility for regulating consumer credit from the Office of Fair Trading to the FCA,’ he said.

The consumer credit approach is still pending approval from the FCA as well as the Legal Services Board, if agreed the rules will come into effect on in April 2016.