There is evidence that the quality of legal advice is “too often sub-standard”, meaning the safety net for consumers needs to be enhanced, the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) said today as it launched its work programme for the next year.
The LSCP highlighted will-writing and criminal advocacy as examples of areas of law where there is too much poor-quality advice, although it acknowledged that “the vast majority of consumers are happy with the legal service they receive”.
It said the Legal Education and Training Review, as well as wider work on quality assurance, “present key opportunities to ensure that consumers receive legal advice which is ethical and technically competent, and which is useful and is delivered to high service standards.
“Crucially, lawyers should not only be able to do this on entry to the profession, but be able to demonstrate ongoing competence to practise throughout their careers.”
The panel said rationalising the regulation of legal services – including examining the list of reserved legal activities – is a major strand of work in 2012/13, while it will also support efforts to close the gaps in redress through the Legal Ombudsman (LeO).
LeO is currently consulting on its scheme rules, including allowing third parties to complain, and the LSCP said it will strongly support this, as well as LeO’s push to develop a voluntary jurisdiction to accept complaints not covered by the statutory scheme at the moment.
The Legal Services Board has also indicated that it will ask the LSCP to investigate the extent to which regulators’ financial protection arrangements, including compensation, are adequate and the appropriate level of risk that consumers should be expected to bear.
More broadly, the LSCP and LeO will jointly commission research on consumer expectations and experiences of complaining to lawyers. The panel said: “Research has shown that many consumers lack the confidence to complain to their lawyer, while many of those who get to this stage are unhappy with how the lawyer handled the complaint. Despite this, many of these complainants do not pursue matters through to LeO.”
Other areas of LSCP work will include supporting a “self-regulation solution” for legal comparison websites.
LSCP chairwoman Elisabeth Davies said: “We want to put consumers in the driving seat when they use legal services, but regulators also need to safeguard standards and provide protection when things go wrong. A key aim for the year is to enhance the safety net by widening access to redress and ensuring that financial protection arrangements are working well.
“It’s vital that someone’s ability to access legal services is not disadvantaged due to their personal circumstances, but our recent research with deaf people has shown that sadly this is often not the case for consumers in vulnerable positions. As with last year’s programme, we plan to work with the sector to overcome these barriers, helping the approved regulators to engage effectively with the public.”