An improved version of the Legal Choices ‘Can you trust your legal adviser?’ portal could be “the best way forward” for a single digital register of all regulated lawyers, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has said.
The LSB was responding to research it commissioned which rejected as an option a centralised website which referred consumers to the legal regulators’ separate registers.
The Competition & Market Authority (CMA) first recommended a single digital register of all regulated lawyers in 2016, repeating its recommendation in 2020 and suggesting that the LSB lead its development.
The LSB commissioned research from PA Consulting, which reported earlier this year on the options for a future register and design principles that should underpin its development.
The research involved a market analysis of other regulated sectors and an online workshop with regulators and the Legal Services Consumer Panel.
Researchers identified three options – a decentralised register, a digital portal and a centralised register.
However, they said the first option, using a central directory to access information on separate legal regulators’ websites, was the “easiest solution to implement, but least consumer-centric, and not within the spirit” of the CMA report.
This was because consumers would “need to know exactly what to search for and then click a link through to individual regulatory bodies’ websites”.
It would have limited flexibility and a lack of quality control because information was “held and displayed in inconsistent formats and not updated uniformly across regulatory bodies”.
A digital portal, such as the one already provided by Legal Choices under the label ‘Can you trust your legal adviser?’, integrated information from legal regulators into the portal and provided “information on demand”.
This solution was consumer centric, in allowing consumers to access “all relevant information from a single source”, flexible and enabled regulators to present their own information, although data standards were required.
A centralised register or “register of registers”, which consolidated information from legal regulators and stored it in a centrally managed system, was also consumer centric and flexible.
However, it would be “difficult to standardise information across regulatory bodies”, which could cause an “undue burden on smaller regulatory bodies”.
Ensuring data was “standardised and high quality” would require “significant change” and raise questions over the ownership of information.
In a paper for its most recent board meeting, the LSB said the research had set out a “clear and achievable” way forward, with next steps including user testing, a ‘deep dive’ into the technology and an assessment of viability and the legal requirements, including GDPR.
“While development of the existing ‘Can you trust your legal adviser tool’ may be the best way forward”, the LSB said “not all regulators are equally participating in the provision of funding” and data.
The LSB was “aware that the BSB [Bar Standards Board] withdrew funding for the Legal Choices platform in 2020” and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales had “raised concerns about providing data”.
The board agreed that its chair would write to the regulators “noting that the work by PA Consulting makes clear that a service or tool that enables consumers to easily access regulatory information is achievable”.
The oversight regulator should also note that “while there may be alternative views to how to progress this work, if legal services regulators and the LSB are to implement the CMA’s recommendations, there needs to be collective agreement on a way forward”.