The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the regulator of 5,000 solicitors and 450 law firms in Wales. It works in the public interest to set and enforce high professional standards and support access to affordable legal services.
We spoke to the SRA’s Chief Executive, Paul Philip to find out what he thinks are the big issues for the legal sector in Wales.
How important is a strong legal sector for business in Wales?
A thriving, competitive legal sector provides strong foundations for a thriving, competitive economy. When surveyed, almost 9 out of 10 businesses said the legal services are crucial for running their business. They can help them take on their first employee, their first lease, complete their first online sale or export. In short, they can help small businesses become bigger and more successful. So a strong, open, affordable legal sector in Wales is not just good news for solicitors and law firms, but the whole Welsh economy.
How is the legal sector doing here?
Things are looking positive. Law firms in Wales are now turning over more than £380m. That’s three percent growth on last year. There are lots of firms here doing excellent work. We are also seeing some firms looking to offer services in new ways, which is so important if the sector is to grow.
What do you think is the key thing required to help the legal sector grow in Wales?
Growth will come from the dynamism and expertise of the solicitors, firms and business people of Wales. However, we can play our part in making sure we are not getting in the way of good businesses and good ideas. We want to encourage growth, and make sure as many people and small businesses can access high quality, affordable legal services.
How are you doing that?
We want to see a more open, competitive legal sector. One way we can help achieve that is by getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracy.
For instance, I think our current rules for solicitors are long and overly complex. This does not help raise standards, but it can mean higher costs – costs that ultimately get passed onto the people using the law firms.That complexity can also deter new types of firms coming into the market. So we are making our rules shorter, sharper and clearer. We also want to make changes so it is easier for firms to offer new services and for new types of firm to set up here.
Of course, there is a balance. We still need to make sure we have the necessary protections in place, so the public can continue to trust that solicitors as a profession are working to high standards.
Are the public getting what they want from legal services?
There are times in all our lives when high quality legal advice can really matter – whether trying to sort out an employment dispute, dealing with a relationship breakdown, or standing up to an unscrupulous landlord. The vast majority of solicitors work to high standards and can help people navigate these problems.
One challenge though is that not everyone can afford to use a solicitor. We want to help change that. Again an open, competitive, strong legal sector could give the public more choice, while pushing service up and costs down.
You are here in Cardiff for your first Board meeting in the city. Why now?
In order to do an effective job, we need to make sure we get out of the office, and understand the needs of the public and the profession in Wales. We also recognise that there will be certain issues that are specific to Wales, such as the emerging Welsh body of law.
So over the last two years, we have been doing more in Wales. We are meeting regularly with MPs, AMs, law firms, academics and members of the public to deepen our understanding of the Welsh legal market. and we must make sure that our reforms and work meets the needs of people in Wales. For example, we are looking at changing how to qualify as a solicitor, making it easier for people from non traditional background to join the profession. That matters for Wales and for the Welsh law schools.
Making sure we have a Board here every year is part of increasing that dialogue.
A strong legal sector is good for the public, the profession and the economy in Wales. Hopefully all these conversations will help us play our part in supporting that.