Law Society “must show it listens to solicitors” about cost of practising

Hill: Significant scope for improvement

The Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) need to do more to show that they take on board what solicitors have to say about the cost of practising, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has warned.

While approving their application to keep the coming year’s practising certificate fee (PCF) at £278, LSB chief executive Matthew Hill said they failed to comply with a request made last year to include a more detailed explanation of how consultation responses were considered, whether the feedback resulted in changes and if not, the reasons why.

The two bodies were told that, even if there was a low number of responses, the LSB expected their application to demonstrate that “proper consideration” had been given to the issues raised.

There were a record 224 responses to this year’s consultation on the PCF – although still only a sliver of the near-150,000 practising solicitors – and just 24% said it represented good value for money, against 67% who said it did not (9% did not know).

Mr Hill said the LSB asked the Law Society to explain how the consultation responses were assessed.

“We were told that the Law Society council noted that there were positive references to the flat fee and the fact the Law Society part of the fees showed a reduction. However, due to the low response rate, council elected to maintain the proposed fee.”

The LSB had to press them again, and in response the Law Society and SRA said they had recognised the impact of Covid-19: the Law Society reduced the amount it takes from the money raised by £1.1m to £30.4m, while the SRA considered collecting the PC fee by way of instalments but decided it would not be possible.

Mr Hill said it was “concerning” that the application did not include this information up-front.

“We do not consider it appropriate to argue that a proposed fee does not need to be amended due to apparent low levels of response when the responses received raise substantive points – especially given that this year saw a significant increase in responses as compared to last year.”

The LSB is currently consulting on new rules that would require regulators to be more transparent about setting and spending PCFs, and this will include them demonstrating that they have engaged effectively with “as many people as reasonably practical”, Mr Hill said.

“Given the responses provided to this consultation, it would appear that improvements in this regard would be welcomed by at least some of those who pay the PCF.

“On the evidence of this application, it appears that there is significant scope for improvement in this area for future applications. In advance of future applications, we expect TLS and the SRA to publish a summary of consultation responses and to publish a decision document.”

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