Legal Services Act with us for “one or two decades” more, LSB chief says

Hill: Existing framework offers enormous opportunity

It is “highly over-optimistic” to think the Legal Services Act will be reformed or replaced by the government in the next couple of years, the chief executive of the Legal Services Board (LSB) has warned.

Predicting that it will instead take “one or two decades”, Matthew Hill said the focus should be on “extracting value from the existing legislation”, rather than on a new Act.

“While the Legal Services Act leaves a lot to be desired, it has very considerable strengths, the most important being its flexibility.

“We have an enormous opportunity to shape and update the regulatory system within the existing framework. It’s a question of imagination.”

Speaking on an Access Legal webinar, Mr Hill said he did not see “any sign” that reforming the Act would be heading to the top of the government’s priority list for “very many years”.

Only last week, Solicitors Regulation Authority chair Anna Bradley claimed there was a “live debate” at Westminster about shifting the model of legal regulation to a single regulator.

Describing the Act as “awful”, Iain Miller, partner at Kingsley Napley, said there was “so much you would want to change”.

The list of reserved legal activities, which was “passported through from the old regime”, bore “no relationship to the public interest” in terms of where the risks were to consumers.

However, Mr Miller said there was a mechanism under the Act for the reserved activities to be reviewed. Since the legislation “ain’t going to change soon”, it would be up to lawyers to “make the best of what they’ve got”.

We reported last month that the LSB is to undertake a “first-principles analysis” of the list of reserved legal activities.

Earlier in the session, during a discussion on ethics, Professor Chris Bones, chair of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX), said there was not a “crisis of ethics” in the legal profession any more than in other parts of civil life.

The professor, a non-lawyer and expert on management, said the erosion of “the basics of truth and integrity” which could clearly be seen in business and politics was “toxic for lawyers”.

He went on: “Behaviour in law firms and in-house teams is a leadership issue. Leaders set the culture of those firms.

“The issue quite often for our members is the instructions they get and the way they are persuaded or intimidated to behave in certain ways.

Professor Bones said that “right across” the legal sector, the employment experience was not “pleasant”, whether because of work pressures, intimidation or pressure to conform.

He asked how ethical it was for law firms not to pay CILEX lawyers the same amount of money for doing the same job as solicitors or not to pay for their education.

“I think culture is ignored by a lot of law firms. It’s the only way you can fix the moral compass of your business.”

Mr Hill said he “could not agree more” about the importance of leadership, saying it was 80-90% of the solution in terms of improving the regulation of legal services, with regulation itself making up 10-20%.

He went on: “Who is having the conversation with an individual lawyer when they join the profession, telling them that they are taking on something that is more than just a job?”

He said the way lawyers treated their jobs “makes a difference” to the public and admission into a group of people in which the public placed their trust came with privileges and obligations.

Mr Miller said ethical issues for lawyers were “getting a lot more complicated”, but people were being admitted into the profession who were “not well equipped to deal with the increasingly complex ethical issues we are facing”.

He said one solution would be to introduce compulsory ethics education into the training process, as with the US bar exams. Another, for lawyers who were already qualified, would be to introduce some form of continuing ethics training.

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