Submitted by Dean Fuller and published online by The Law Society Gazette.
At the same time as the SRA reveals its continuing appetite to reduce the burden of red tape on solicitors it requires all regulated practices to collect, report and publish data on the diversity of their workforce. The SRA states that collection of this data is a Legal Services Board requirement to promote transparency and diversity in the legal services market.
In 2012, the SRA provided an online survey tool to help practices collate their data. However, the SRA will not be providing this helpful facility for 2013. In the latest SRA Update – Issue 33 it says, “There are a number of third party tools available to help firms collect the required diversity data, including a free online tool by the Law Society”. The free online survey tool requires solicitors to sign up to terms and conditions with Riliance.
The Law Society has an equity stake in Riliance, a company that provides support to law firms on compliance with outcomes focused regulation. Information about the size and the price paid for the stake has not been publicly disclosed. As has previously been voiced what is worrying about this is that there is a real risk of conflict of interest. Many firms of solicitors are keen to see a reduction in the burden falling on COLPs and COFAs as well as a simplification of regulation. However, a simplification of the regulatory obligations would now be directly against the commercial interests of Riliance and the Law Society, a body which is supposed to represent the interests of its solicitor members. The very existence of Riliance demonstrates that the regulatory burden on law firms has become so disproportionate that many firms do not have the resources to comply with their obligations on their own and are expected to pay for external resources, although not in this instance.