Resurrecting self-regulation of lawyers – as the Law Society and Bar Council are urging the government to do – would be “an obstacle to progress” for legal services providers and consumers alike, the Legal Services Board has warned.
In a guest blog for this website, chief executive Chris Kenny said such a move would take the profession back to the days of protectionism, as well as fraud and other problems.
In their submissions to the Ministry of Justice’s legal regulation review, the Law Society and Bar Council both called for the return of responsibility for areas such as standard setting and training to the professional bodies, with their regulatory arms retained for discipline and enforcement.
Mr Kenny said: “People have not forgotten why Parliament felt it necessary to put the Legal Services Act on the statute books in the first place. High barriers to entry, restrictions on innovation, prescriptive rules, bans on advertising, restrictions on forms of funding, structure and ownership for firms to name but a few of the many restrictive practices that have been used in the relatively recent past for no reason other than protecting the lawyer from change.
“These and other practices did nothing to meet the legal needs which the average consumer, be they an individual, group of individuals, small or medium-sized business have.
Describing how he saw the market before the Legal Services Act, Mr Kenny said: “We saw significant lawyer involvement in mortgage fraud, scandals such as miners’ compensation, and systematically poor consumer complaints handling in firms and regulators alike, with the regulators slow off the mark at best and not at the races at worst.
“The majority of decent, ethical practitioners could only look on in despair.”
Mr Kenny said he had heard nothing in the arguments for a return to self-regulation “that has convinced me that it will not be how it will be again should self-regulation return”.
The Act has ushered in greater innovation that helps more people to access justice, he said, but the market and consumers need more, as well as “collaboration and competition between different branches of the profession and an outward-looking attitude encompassing all legal services providers in the broadest sense with best practice being learned from other professional and service industries”.
He concluded: “This is the future of legal services in this country. Calling for a return to self-regulation is, at best, an irrelevance, at worst an obstacle to progress.”