Friday 17 May 2013 by John Hyde

Solicitors are less likely to speak positively of the Solicitors Regulation Authority than they were a year ago, a Law Society survey has found.

Firms who took part in the 2012/13 winter poll were less likely than a year before to give 'good' ratings for the regulator in setting standards of behaviour, promoting and securing standards, protecting consumers and upholding the rule of law.

But the level of dissatisfaction has also waned, with the number of firms rating the SRA as 'poor' the lowest it has been since the survey started in 2009. Almost half of the 1,001 firms surveyed rated satisfaction with the SRA as 'neutral'.

The biggest source of contention remained the burden of regulation on the legal profession, with 86% of respondents agreeing the burden was too great, up from 77% in 2011.

Correspondingly, the proportion of firms agreeing that the responsibilities of firms' senior management are reasonable dropped from 56% in 2011 to 44% in 2012.

Almost half of firms (47%) in 2012 considered the internal costs of compliance to be excessive, an increase on the 39% of firms in 2011. The practising certificate (PC) fee and firm charge were considered as being value for money by less than two-fifths of firms (39% and 30% respectively).

Around three-fifths of firms, 58%, reported that the SRA had not made it clear how outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) works in practice, up on the 51% of firms in 2011.

Firms who did not think the SRA had made it clear how OFR works in practice were more likely to be concerned that OFR leaves them open to retrospective regulation.

Respondents' views were more positive under the new regime in relation to whether the SRA operates fairly in its contact with firms (62%) and the proportionality of firm visits in protecting the profession's reputation (75%).

In both cases a higher proportion of firms in 2012 agreed compared to firms in 2011.

In his response to the survey, outgoing SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said complaints about regulatory burden and the cost of regulation could be attributed largely to one-off costs and the extra administration required by recent changes to its approach.

'We believe that these will ease as OFR beds down, leading to a reduction in the burden for well-run firms,' he added.

'Nonetheless, we recognise the pressures upon firms, and we are committed to streamlining our processes and reducing costs wherever we can.'

Townsend said 'visible improvements' had been made to the approvals and authorisation processes and the SRA would look at ways to simplify them further.

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