Legal Business Blogs

‘The pace has been relentless’ – the man who led the SRA through its birth has had enough

Antony Townsend, the man who led the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) through its controversy-strewn separation from the Law Society, has today (2 May) confirmed that he is to leave the body.

Chief executive Townsend announced that he is stepping down later this year once a successor has been appointed. He commented: ‘I have headed up the SRA from its inception. The pace of change has been relentless; the challenges have been formidable.

‘The SRA now has a firm basis upon which to develop and mature its new approach to regulation. I have concluded that after seven years it is a good time for me to move on.’

Charles Plant, chair of the SRA board, added: ‘Antony inherited a regulatory organisation and regime in serious need of reform. Much has been achieved by the SRA under Antony’s leadership.

‘The SRA’s transformation process must continue with particular emphasis on operational delivery now that the new regulatory framework is substantially in place. The next stage in the SRA’s development will be equally demanding over a further protracted period of time, and Antony and I have agreed that now is an appropriate time to effect a change.’

Townsend has earned a rest having led the UK’s largest front-line legal regulator through its troubled split from the Law Society. In the post-Legal Services Act landscape, lawyer regulation in England and Wales has too often looked like an ill-tempered land-grab with bodies such as the SRA, Law Society and the Legal Services Board jostling for position.

In particular, Chancery Lane, which came to bitterly regret the loss of its regulatory brief, was prone to pressuring the SRA. The Law Society also fanned criticism of the SRA’s role in regulating City law firms despite there being little evidence that its record had worsened in comparison to when the Law Society had the job. Indeed, the consensus view is that the SRA has somewhat improved on Chancery Lane’s uneven record as a solicitor watchdog.

The post-LSA world led to a barrage of consultations and upheaval – including the SRA’s implementation of its model of so-called outcomes focused regulation (OFR). Some of these developments were logical modernisation in the shadow of Tesco law – some were patience-testing exercises of questionable merit. There was certainly too much of it.

For more on the impact of the OFR shake-up, click here for this month’s panel discussion on law firm risk. Legal regulation doesn’t get my pulse racing but the piece more than held my attention. We apologise in advance to readers for the offensive level of acronyms.