The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has laid out its timetable to overhaul rules for in-house lawyers in a response to the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) consultation on whether current rules are too restrictive.
With plans to publish recommendations for the profession regarding in-house lawyers this autumn, the LSB received 18 responses to its discussion paper, Are regulatory restrictions in practising rules for in-house lawyers justified?
The SRA’s response stated that as it had already recognised the need to reform its rules it wouldn’t answer the questions provided. However, it did lay out its timetable for the ‘fundamental’ review with a full consultation paper due this autumn and any new regulatory approach to be implemented by April 2016.
Another review is also being undertaken by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), looking at rules for employed barristers. After discussions with the LSB following its response, the BSB has expanded the scope of its reassessment.
Other responses to the LSB, gave an idea of the conflicting opinions within the profession over the role of the in-house lawyer. Some, such as the North London Waste Authority, considered restrictions to be a barrier to innovative and cost effective service delivery and urged for the relaxation of regulations limiting provision of unreserved activities.
GC100 was pessimistic about the effect such changes would make, saying that current restrictions reflected the nature of employment and that practice would not change. It did however, argue for simplified sections of the SRA’s Practice Framework Rules.
Meanwhile, the Law Society opposed relaxing rules, arguing that the Alternative Business Structures gave companies the necessary flexibility if they wanted to offer legal services to clients. Instead the body, backed by GC100, LawWorks and Lawyers in Charities, offered there should be changes to make it easier for in-house lawyers to carry out pro bono services.
A general theme among responders was for greater harmonisation of rules across regulators and regulations.
The SRA confirmed it was to review its core handbook to produce standards and guidance geared specifically to in-house counsel at the end of March this year. The announcement came at the launch of a research project on legal ethics and risk management within companies at which SRA chair Enid Rowlands (pictured) acknowledged the agency’s historical lack of engagement with the swelling ranks of in-house counsel in England and Wales.
For more on the changing role of in-house lawyers see: Going native – ethics and the modern GC