Crispin Passmore, the director of strategy at the Legal Services Board, is jumping ship for a newly created executive director-level policy role at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Legal Futures understands.
It will be seen as a bold move by the SRA ahead of its new chief executive taking over, with Mr Passmore’s reputation for creative thinking and particular focus on unmet legal need.
If given the freedom to put his ideas into practice, Mr Passmore’s influence could be felt across the legal market.
A non-lawyer, Mr Passmore began his career in the law at Coventry Law Centre, spending four years as its chief executive, before moving onto the Legal Services Commission as policy director and often finding himself in conflict with the legal profession. He joined the Legal Services Board in May 2009.
Legal Futures understands that senior officials at the Law Society are less than thrilled at the appointment, over which they had no influence.
Mr Passmore said: “This is an exciting time to be joining the SRA. Enormous progress has been made in recent years towards modernising regulation. I look forward to helping the SRA meet the significant challenges ahead so that the legal market can continue to innovate and provide choice and value for money for consumers.”
Earlier this year, Mr Passmore argued that a growing amount of legal work could be “de-lawyered” and provided by organisations that offer a wide range of legal and non-legal services.
He said the future of the legal market could involve consumers “not necessarily minding who provides the service they need – so long as it achieves what they want”. It was this that should drive business decisions such as design of services, required expertise and structure, rather than the other way round, he advised.
Mr Passmore said what clients want is “problem avoidance and problem resolution – not legal advice”, a distinction he insisted matters.
In a speech in March, he questioned the notion that there is an oversupply of lawyers given the level of latent demand for legal services among both businesses and consumers. “It suggests that while progress has been made in opening up the market, we still have a long, long way to go,” he said.
Highlighting the need for innovation, he added: “As Blockbuster, Jessops and HMV all discovered, you can argue your business is different because you offer expertise and personal service, but no part of this market is immune to change. I think that most lawyers now recognise this – but as those three once retail giants discovered, you have to respond to change to survive.”
He has also in the past highlighted the need to move towards regulating lawyers based on the work they do, rather than on their professional title.
Mr Passmore is likely to support the SRA’s push for structural independence from the Law Society, saying in another speech earlier this year that the influence of lawyers and professional bodies on their frontline regulators was the biggest risk to independent regulation in the law.
He will join the SRA on 6 January, shortly before Paul Philip takes over from Antony Townsend as chief executive. Another executive director, Samantha Barrass, is also leaving the SRA in February but decisions about a replacement for her will await Mr Philip’s arrival.