Specifically, the SRA is gathering more evidence as to the extent to which conveyancing and probate solicitors are meeting their obligations. Supervision arrangements within firms specialising in those areas will also be assessed (immigration is also a focus).
The regulator’s ‘next steps’ for continuing competency are contained in a recent report setting out its latest findings into how solicitors and firms maintain their skills and competency. The changes had been expected in January 2024, but have been pushed back while the SRA carries out further work.
What’s the background?
The solicitors’ profession has been under threat for some time of a tighter continuing competency regime, by order of the Legal Services Board. Until such a shift is implemented, solicitors will continue to be required to make a mandatory ‘statement of competence’ (supported by the Statement of Knowledge and the Threshold Standard) each year.
The current system has been in place for more than seven years (replacing the prescriptive system where solicitors had to fulfil a minimum number of CPD hours). But this is not sufficiently protecting consumers from incompetent or ineffective solicitors – at least, that’s what the super-regulator believes.
The SRA recently published its findings following an analysis of the latest data, ranging from reports of alleged incompetence; findings from recent thematic reviews; and from wider SRA checks on training and supervision arrangements.
As a result, it found - unsurprisingly - that conveyancing and probate are more likely to be the subject of a report to the SRA. This means a particular focus will now be on those two areas, particularly on any competence reports requiring remedial action, and research into the risks to and impact on consumers of a lack of competence in conveyancing and probate services.
So what will this mean in practice? The regulator will consider enforcement action against solicitors breaching the rules in failing to keep up with their knowledge and skills; and against firms lacking appropriate supervision arrangements.
Conveyancing firms can also expect a letter from the SRA reminding them of their obligation to ensure solicitors maintain their competence. The regulator may also decide to introduce specific guidance on solicitor competency in conveyancing and probate.
More generally, the next 12 months will see the SRA continue its competency-related work, including investigations into serious cases and competence-focused inspections. It is also to publish guidance next year clarifying its competence expectations, with a focus on the expectation for solicitors to reflect on their particular practice - and how they can do so effectively and can identify their learning and development needs.
To help support your continuing competency, we have created the SRA Webinar Bundle, a 4 x 1 hour webinar package designed to help ensure your skills are up to date and in line with the SRA competence standards. View our SRA Webinar Bundle here.