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SRA to move away from 'employed solicitor' concept, ease ABS process

The Solicitors Regulation Authority appears to be moving away from the concept of the ‘employed solicitor’, the President of Lawyers in Local Government has said following a meeting between the regulator and local authority lawyers last month.

“They take the view that the great majority of solicitors are employed,” Philip Thomson, Director of Essex Legal Services, said. “It makes no difference whether that is by a private sector firm, a local authority or a multi-national.

“Leaving aside regulation to support the rule of the law, the SRA may see little need therefore for regulation of solicitors undertaking work on behalf of local authorities.”

Thomson reported that the SRA was looking at a new approach to regulation, based more upon risk proportionate to the vulnerability of the client.

Discussions were also held at the meeting about local authority applications for alternative business structure (ABS) licences.

HB Public Law and Buckinghamshire Law+ are thought to be furthest down the licensing regime.

The LLG President said he expected the outcome of applications by some local authorities to be known soon.

He added: “Where local authorities make applications for an ABS, these will be looked at positively and there are plans to ease the process. These changes of approach will affect how we lawyers work in the public sector.”

The SRA told those attending the meeting that it intended to hold pre-application discussions with potential ABS applicants, so that applications become more targeted and less onerous.

The Authority also acknowledged that local authorities were not a group and each application needed to be looked at separately.

In addition, the SRA also said it was interested in client confidentiality when it came to local authority ABS applications, and how work would be separated where the new service straddles both an ABS and traditional in-house practice.

The Authority also asked LLG and the Local Government Association together to produce a definitive statement of whom local authority legal services deliver services to and would like to.