Sam Younger CBE (chair of the CILEx Regulation Board) describes how CILEx and CILEx Regulation plan to encourage and support the ambitions of Chartered Legal Executive lawyers.
In announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court recently, Lord Neuberger lamented the almost total lack of diversity at the highest level of the judiciary, as did Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, at a parliamentary select committee hearing in the same week. But awareness and aspiration are one thing; delivery is another. And CILEx is delivering real diversity into legal services. For more years than most of us can remember, access to a fulfilling career in law seemed to be for the privileged, with privately educated Oxbridge graduates dominating. That has been changing, not necessarily quickly but certainly inexorably.
No better time to be a Chartered Legal Executive
In my view, there has never been a better time to be a Chartered Legal Executive than now. Of course, there are those who still take the view that it is only barristers and solicitors who are ‘the real deal’. But the world has been changing; there is a tide flowing strongly in favour of widening access to a career in law, and at the same time an awareness that access to the law for the consumer needs to become much easier and more affordable. For CILEx members, building on the steadily growing reputation of the profession over the years, the platform is now there to make the CILEx route a fulfilling career. For those who graduated in October, there is now a clear pathway through the practice rights they can now achieve to starting their own law firm. CILEx and CILEx Regulation are currently working together to be authorised to regulate alternative business structures.
New opportunities up for grabs
Looked at from CILEx Regulation, there is a sense of frustration that the new opportunities are not being grasped as quickly as we would like. Clearly, the faster the growth of membership, practice rights and entity registration, the more effectively we can bring down the cost of regulation for practitioners. However, we have to recognise that we are in a long-term game. The progress CILEx has made in enhancing its status in the overall architecture of legal services has not been achieved overnight. It is not surprising that many of those who launched and built their careers before practice rights and entity were on offer are less likely to be tempted by the new opportunities. But for those graduating recently and for the generation to come, those possibilities will be part of their overall consideration when they decide to embark on the CILEx route.
I am sure they will be full of ambition to build careers on the back of those who have gone before and built the platform for them. They will be able to fulfil their ambitions through CILEx; indeed, in my view the probable future pressures in the legal services market are more likely to squeeze the expensively trained generalists that are solicitors and favour those who are more specifically qualified to deliver the services consumers actually need professionally and cost-effectively.
Regulating in the public interest
At CILEx Regulation, we are fully committed to supporting CILEx’s ambitions. We do so not out of any wish to be a more powerful regulator, but because we believe the success of CILEx is firmly in the public and consumer interest. It is important to us to grow the numbers because that is the best way to minimise the cost of regulation. At the same time, regulation can never be a ‘cheap option’. The whole point of regulating in the public interest is that we need to have in place independent arrangements which guarantee the quality of service that will be on offer to the consumer from the regulated community, and those requirements will inevitably, at times, seem onerous to hard-pressed practitioners. I make no apology for that.
At the same time, CILEx Regulation is committed to ensuring that its requirements focus on where the risk to the public and consumer interest lies, and on the outcomes we are seeking to achieve. When I became Chair of CILEx Regulation a little more than a year ago, I was struck by CILEx Regulation’s reputation among the legal services regulators for innovation. For example, the move from an hours-based to an outcomes-based system for Continuing Professional Development is one that is now being copied by other regulators
The future of legal services regulation
As far as I am concerned, my top priority is to support CILEx in growing its membership and the take up of the opportunities now on offer. But there are other challenges in the external environment that we have to meet. A year ago, the Treasury announced that there would be a consultation on making the legal services regulators fully independent of the professional bodies that spawned them. While that consultation has not happened so far (probably due to government’s pre-occupation with Brexit), the tide is flowing strongly in the direction of independence. In September, the Legal Services Board (LSB) published its vision for the future of legal services regulation, and full independence of the regulators was a core part of it.* CILEx Regulation has always had a constructive relationship with CILEx – the ‘Approved Regulator’ – and has been operationally independent. That said, we have been working with CILEx to ensure that we can cope smoothly with full independence when (rather than if ) it comes, for example, by taking steps to segregate our financial accounts from CILEx’s. But even with full independence, maintaining strong links with CILEx and members, as key stakeholders, will remain a priority for us.
Other elements of the LSB’s vision are longer-term in nature: moving away from regulation focused on the practitioner to regulation focused on activities; a review of what the regulated (or ‘reserved’) activities should be; and a move towards a single regulator for all legal services.
Ready (and waiting) for change
Significant change – especially legislative change – in legal services regulation is probably still some way away. But we need to be ready for it when it does come rather than be taken by surprise. I am fortunate to have a committed and experienced Board, excellent staff and a good relationship with colleagues at CILEx. I am confident that we are well placed to meet the challenges to come, but the determining factor in future success will be the growth in the numbers taking up the very real opportunities that the CILEx route now offers.
* A vision for legislative reform of the regulatory framework for legal services in England and Wales, available at: http://tinyurl.com/jptfjr5
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