Editor's Comment: Chancery pain
It seems increasingly apparent that the post-Clementi overhaul of solicitor regulation put in place several years back is under serious strain. True, the Law Society's regulatory division was transferred to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) with a commendable lack of fuss from all sides. But in recent months, there has been some evidence of jostling for position among legal bodies and tensions have emerged between the SRA and Chancery Lane. The real flashpoint has been the Society's appointment this month of Lord Hunt of Wirral to conduct a profession-wide review of regulation. And it is not hard to see why the SRA is irritated. Having only given the SRA one day's notice of the review, the Society publicly stated that "the SRA will be a key consultee and their input will be vital to the success of the review".That is big of them. Put plainly, it is hard to see in what way it is appropriate for a representative body to be 'reviewing' its own regulator. And coming two-and-a-half months before the formal launch of the body actually charged with overseeing the whole regulatory shooting-match - the Legal Services Board - it looks downright bizarre. The Law Society, for its part, responds that it ultimately remains the approved watchdog, despite operational regulation being delegated to the SRA, and that it was moving to respond to a "quantum leap in dissatisfaction" from City law firms about how regulation was working.That may be correct, but it seems the Society's conception of its role goes against the spirit of Clementi. Chancery Lane has also picked a convenient moment to notice regulatory grumbling from the City, which was deafening through much of the latter years of the Law Society's role as sole solicitor watchdog.Ultimately this incident surely underlines the extent to which the regulatory model currently in place is an interim one - not ideal, but a solution that made sense, providing the parties involved co-operated to smooth the path towards the Legal Services Act. But it is not something you would ever design from scratch. Indeed, the current model gives the Law Society, a trade union, some control of the infrastructure and resources of its regulator. A more substantive split between the two bodies would be healthier for all concerned. But the final irony is that the Law Society, under chief executive Des Hudson, is widely viewed to have raised its game, becoming more responsive to the profession in recent years. So what can now be gained from what looks like a kind of 11th-hour regulatory land-grab is hard to fathom.
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