SRA to cap profits made by SQE provider

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is to impose a cap on profits made by the supplier chosen to run the super-exam assessment.

The regulator yesterday opened the tender for a provider to administer the Solicitors Qualifying Exam from September 2020.

The tender document reveals that the SRA intends to keep controls over the exam’s content and standards, making the pass mark subject to the approval of the chief executive. The SRA will also own all intellectual property in the SQE brand, which will be licensed to the successful supplier.

The SRA will not pay the supplier, although it may provide some funds to cover the upfront costs. Suppliers will set candidates fees, subject to SRA approval, which must remain ‘broadly stable’ and represent ‘value for money’ for the candidates paying.

According to the documents, the regulator will insist on ‘open book access’ to the assessment supplier’s accounts to determine whether fees being charged are fair and reasonable and to justify any increase. It is stressed in the tender document that the regulator is not necessarily seeking the lowest fee proposed, although there are no suggestions what the fee should be.

To ensure candidates are not charged excessive fees, any profits beyond a certain level from the SQE will be paid into a ‘re-investment fund’. The level of this cap is unspecified.

The document adds: ‘The SQE is not an income generating exercise for the SRA and we do not wish to retain excess profits for ourselves. We will decide how this money is spent either in connection with the improvement of the SQE or to provide financial assistance to candidates.’

The SRA states the exam must be a ‘rigorous, valid and reliable assessment’ that ensures newly qualified solicitors have the competences required for effective practice.

As expected, the qualification will be in two parts: a computer-based exam testing legal knowledge and a series of practical assessments.

The chosen assessment supplier will conduct its work in an ‘open and transparent way’ to help universities, training providers, publishers and employers prepare for implementation.

The SRA confirms it is prepared to work with a supplier already engaged in training – a potential conflict of interest revealed this week by the Gazette.

In response to this issue, the SRA adds: ‘We will only contract with an assessment supplier who is either not engaged in the delivery of preparatory training for the SQE or who can assure use that there is a separation of these activities to avoid any perceived or actual conflict of interest of distortion of the training market.’

The closing date for final submissions is 1 September, with shortlisted bidders notified by 1 November and a contract issued next March.

New SRA Handbook will not be implemented before Autumn 2018

Following consultations last year, SRA are today publishing their decisions and consultation response documents.
The SRA Board has agreed:
·         New SRA Principles
Our new Principles clearly and concisely state the high ethical standards we expect of those we regulate.
·         Two new Codes of Conduct
The code for individuals sets out the professional standards and behaviours we expect of solicitors in practice. Our code for firms provides clarity on what their responsibilities are as regulated businesses.
·         Solicitors offering services outside SRA regulated firms 
Solicitors will be able to offer non-reserved legal services outside of firms overseen by the SRA or another approved legal services regulator. This will let them take the high standards, training and consumer protections that attach to their role to a greater number of consumers through new, innovative business models.
·         Revised and streamlined Account Rules
The new rules strip out unnecessary bureaucracy and focus on what matters: keeping clients’ money safe.
Extensive engagement around 11,000 people
These decisions were reached after extensive engagement with a wide range of our people and organisations, both before and during the consultation. We have listened to and responded to feedback from solicitors, law firms, the general public and representative bodies. We will continue to involve and update everyone as we move forward.
New Handbook will not be implemented before Autumn 2018
We will be consulting on phase 2 of Looking to the Future, which includes the rest of our rules and our approach to enforcement, later on this year. All of the Handbook changes will be implemented together.
We encourage you to stay involved as we work on phase 2. If you would like to discuss any of these issues, you can contact me at

Law Society to pay Socrates up to £230,000 in costs

Competition Appeal Tribunal ordered the Law Society to pay Socrates Training’s costs up to a maximum of the approved budget of £230,000.

Last month, the tribunal ruled that the Law Society abused its dominant position by requiring over 3,000 law firms to buy its own fraud training in order to maintain their Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) accreditation.

The consequential order said that the Law Society “shall not oblige CQS accredited firms to purchase exclusively from the Law Society mandatory training in mortgage fraud, anti-money laundering and financial crime required for CQS accreditation”.

The society has withdrawn the financial crime module, the only one still live, as a result.

The proceedings have been stayed for two months to allow the parties to seek agreement on quantum. If this fails, Socrates has until 1 September to serve points of claim on quantum and the society then 28 days to respond.

Socrates quantified damages in the claim form at £112,500, on the basis that the society’s conduct lost it the custom of 75 law firm firms that would spend some £600 each for two and a half years.

On costs, the tribunal ordered Chancery Lane to pay Socrates’ costs of mediation, to be assessed if not agreed, up to £4,000 plus the company’s share of the mediator’s fees, and also its costs of the proceedings up to a maximum of £230,000, to be assessed on the standard basis if not agreed.

The society’s budget had been capped at £402,500, though it had originally sought £637,000.


UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to charge £5.48 when you email the government agency

People outside the UK will be forced to pay £5.48 when they email the government agency UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) with an enquiry in a move that has stunned solicitors.

UKVI, which is part of the Home Office, has announced that, from tomorrow, customer enquiries will be handled by a new commercial partner, Sitel UK. For customers applying from outside the UK, as well as having to pay £5.48 for an email, all phone numbers and opening hours will change. The number of available languages will be slashed from 20 to eight.

There are no changes for people contacting UKVI from inside the UK.

UK Visas and Immigration said the changes ‘help the government reduce costs and ensure those who benefit directly from the UK immigration system make an appropriate contribution’.

However, solicitor Christopher Cole, partner and head of immigration at Rotherham firm Parker Rhodes Hickmotts, told the Gazette the ‘exorbitant’ £5.48 charge is ‘beyond belief’.

The charge will include the first email inquiry and any follow-up emails to and from the contact centre relating to the same enquiry.

Cole said: ‘Such a charge is truly shocking and wholly unjustified. In order to even come close to being able to justify such a charge, UKVI and their commercial partner will have to up their game considerably.

‘For many years there have been high levels of concern about the limited, unhelpful and often plain wrong information provided by UKVI’s international service when answering queries about an application. There will need to be exceptional improvements in the service to try to explain this absolutely outrageous charge.’

At present customers can email UKVI free of charge. The Home Office says responding to email enquiries from overseas customers, under existing arrangements, costs the Home Office a ‘significant’ amount to run.

The Home Office believes the new charge will help to make its enquiry service cost neutral. It encourages customers to check the government website for information on visa applications before phoning or emailing UKVI.

Around 80% of calls and emails are made in English, the Home Office adds. The language services that will no longer be offered amount to 4% of the calls and emails UKVI currently receives.

A person applying for a visa to join their partner in the UK must pay a £1,464 fee for UKVI to process their application, Cole points out.

He said: ‘There are often problems or delays with either UKVI’s commercial partners who take in the applications at visa application centres or with the actual decision-making process by entry clearance officers.

‘Anyone who pays such a large fee for a service should be able to contact UKVI to obtain information about the progress of their application or to raise a query about their case.

‘Surely, being contacted by email is the most efficient and cost-effective way in which to communicate about an application and this should be encouraged, but instead UKVI (via a new commercial partner) has decided to charge for sending an email.’

Lockton boosts AML advisory expertise ahead of impending Government regulation

Subject: Lockton boosts AML advisory expertise ahead of impending Government regulation

Lockton, the world’s largest privately owned insurance broker, is boosting its AML expertise with the hire of Amy Bell, who joins as Risk Management Consultant within the Lockton Solicitors team.

Lockton boosts AML advisory expertise & upcoming webinar on preparing for changes

Bell will provide key expertise on upcoming Government regulation and help UK law firms to prepare and implement these policies.

She has over 12 years’ experience advising law practices across the UK and globally, helping firms to adapt to the changing legal landscape and adopt best practice in implementing compliance procedures. This includes providing training and support for everyone in the firm on how to apply these risk management principles to improve client service and deliver maximum efficiency.

Brian Boehmer, Partner of Lockton’s Solicitors Practice said: “We are thrilled to have Amy on board. She brings with her extensive knowledge and experience within this sector, particularly the changing regulation on Anti-Money Laundering and GDPR, as well as a whole host of other regulation on the horizon. We look forward to offering our clients the opportunity to learn and engage with us on these changes with a range of topical events, videos and articles, including our ‘Prepare for the biggest changes to AML in a decade’ webinar in June.”

“I’m delighted to be working with Lockton, as a client, I found their commitment to helping firms manage risk is unrivalled” said Bell. “I’m excited to join the team and help their clients navigate through the changes ahead”.

Bell is the Chair of the Law Society’s Money Laundering Task Force, where she represents the Solicitors profession at Government and in Europe. Her work in the last 18 months has been focused on the implementation of the 4th EU Money Laundering Directive and she has been heavily involved in discussions regarding these new Regulations. She is also the author of the Law Society’s Anti-Bribery Toolkit.

Socrates v The Law Society at Competition Tribunal Ruling

Conveyancing training revisited after competition tribunal ruling

26 May 2017

The Law Society of England and Wales today announced it will look again at the training elements of its Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) in response to a ruling by the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

The tribunal found that for a short period  – from April 2015 – the Law Society should have permitted third party trainers to offer some of the modules for the scheme. CQS has been running since 2010.

Only one of the modules that concerned the tribunal was still provided  – the Financial Crime module – and that has now been withdrawn.

Law Society president Robert Bourns said: “For the vast bulk of the time CQS training has been available it has been compliant with competition rules. I am certain that in setting CQS up, the Law Society acted in good faith and in the public interest.

“The purpose of CQS – and its effect – was to ensure greater consumer choice in terms of practitioners available to undertake this important work.

“We note the decision and have and will take steps to avoid similar issues in the future.

“Purchasing a house is the biggest investment most people make, and they need to feel confidence in the process, as do lenders. That was always our motivation – CQS has never been about profit.

“We are grateful to the tribunal for their guidance on changes to CQS that they make in their ruling and we will be looking at their comments as a matter of priority in the coming days.”

Socrates v The Law Society Judgment

LeO to invite live chats

Clients offered live chats with ombudsman

LeO offers its ‘live chat’ service from disputes with claims management companies to all legal service providers.

Live chat, which is available at, coincides with a three-year plan by the ombudsman

to improve the ease of consumers making and resolving complaints. The service runs from 9am to 5pm.

Chief legal ombudsman Kathryn Stone said: ’Modernising our systems with live chat should fit better into people’s busy

lives and make it much easier for consumers to seek support about poor service from the legal industry and get the

advice they need.

People often don’t know where to turn when they have issues with legal providers, but we want them to know that

we are here for them online as well as just a phone call or email away.’

The ombudsman accepted 7,223 legal complaints and 2,290 CMC complaints for investigation in the past financial year.

Compliance Survey

We are conducting a survey of your accreditation and quality standards and would be delighted if you can enter the Compliance Survey

SRA IT Security Facts

SRA issued important IT security facts

IT security – keeping money and data safe

The facts

Laptop image£1 billion  was lost to business from online crime (2015-2016)

£2.3 billion was lost by global businesses from email fraud (2013-2015)

75% of cybercrime reports to us are Friday afternoon fraud

£1.57 million was paid by businesses in ransoms (2016: Q1)

43% of all cyber attacks are aimed at small businesses

9 security breaches in 2015 featuring more than 10million personal records being exposed

Sources: Action Fraud, CRN, FBI, Symantec IT security – keeping money and data safe

SRA Cybersecurity update and Risk Outlook

Leading experts discuss cybersecurity risks to coincide with our spring update to the Risk Outlook.

There was general agreement that law firms are an attractive target for criminals not only because they can hold large amounts of money but also valuable client information. Three key themes from the roundtable were that:

  • Too often cybersecurity is viewed as just an IT risk. It is a business risk that requires engagement and ownership at a senior management and Board level. Training staff is important, but businesses also need to develop a culture where cybersecurity is treated as a serious priority.
  • People and processes are as crucial as technology. Law firms should consider having rigorous and unambiguous procedures for when clients notify them of any changes to their personal information or bank details during a transaction.
  • The use of unsupported software increases an organisation’s vulnerability. In addition to addressing this risk, businesses should also consider the benefits of implementing Cyber Essentials – a Government-backed scheme to help organisations protect themselves against common cyber attacks.

Our roundtable involved leading agencies and experts from a range of sectors to discuss how businesses can tackle the risks of cybersecurity. As well as us, there were representatives from the Information Commissioners Office, Barclays, Advent IM, National Crime Agency, IASME & UK Cyber Forum, ltd, Pelican Underwriting, QBE Insurance, Cyber Strategies, PA Consulting and Microsoft.

The roundtable coincides with the publication of our spring update to its Risk Outlook, which highlights seven priority risks for the legal sector. It shows that three quarters of all cybercrimes reported to us involve email modification fraud. Half of all such reports are email modification frauds against conveyancing proceeds. It says any field of work which involves client money is at risk, with probate another common target.

We are committed to taking a constructive and engaged approach with firms when they fall victim to cybercrime. However, the risk update does highlight that we will take action where firms are not proactive. For instance it has this year issued rebukes in cases where a firm has failed to report the loss of client money or been slow to remedy client losses.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “We all benefit from information technology, but that means we are all vulnerable to cybersecurity risks. These risks evolve rapidly. Whether it is money or sensitive client information, law firms are an obvious target. It is the job of firms to take steps to protect themselves and their clients, but we want to help.

“So in addition to regular updates and conversations with firms, we also want to make sure we learn from insights across all sectors. It was clear from our roundtable how similar the issues are. By working together we will be in much better place to stay cybersecure.”

The update of the Risk Outlook is available here:

Go to the update

We published a detailed report into the IT security at the end of 2016:

Go to the paper