The Bar Council and Law Society have accused the Legal Services Board (LSB) of failing to take into account the impact of the pandemic on the profession in its latest draft strategy.
Both organisations said the LSB’s draft 10-year strategy for the legal sector and business plan for 2021-22 should include as a priority the need to support the profession as it attempts to recover from Covid 19.
The Bar Council said the LSB’s strategy “does not adequately recognise the adverse effect Covid-19 has had on parts of the Bar, nor its potentially discriminatory effect”.
It was “imperative that greater emphasis is put on the immediate impact of the pandemic in the business plan and that the strategic plan is flexible enough to adapt to any longer-term challenges the pandemic creates”.
The Bar Council said its surveys showed the pandemic has created a “real crisis in sustainability of practice at the Bar”, access to justice and the encouragement of diversity in training and representation.
One of the LSB’s strategic themes should be based on recovery or support for “a sector and access to justice that is, in places, on its knees as a result of Covid 19”.
The Law Society suggested that the LSB include as a priority “the achievement of a strong, resilient, internationally respected and independent profession”.
Work should include seeking to understand which parts of the legal sector were “currently struggling, especially sole practitioners and law firms in the legal aid sector”.
Launching its plans in December last year, the LSB said that although it still believed that “ultimately moving to a single regulator for all legal services would have significant public benefits”, now was not the time for a review of the reserved legal activities.
However, the Bar Council strongly attacked the LSB for developing a strategy for the whole legal services sector which was “extremely ambitious” and stretched “well outside the proper remit of the LSB” and into policy questions for government.
“It would be better if the LSB were to do less. It would then be able to do that better.”
The Bar Council said the LSB had “misunderstood its role” and “fallen into the trap of behaving as though it were the overarching sector regulator which it says it wants to be, rather than the regulator of the frontline regulators, which is what it in fact is”.
The Law Society said it was “particularly inappropriate the reform of the regulatory landscape should be proposed as an end in itself, at a time when the sector needs a period of regulatory stability after a period of unprecedented change”.
The Bar Council launched a stinging attack too on the LSB’s public panel, and in particular a quote from a member of the public commenting that it was “odd that the list of regulated services has not been reviewed for some time”.
The Bar Council said the public panel report was the product of “a market research exercise commissioned by the LSB from a third party conducted over a week in June and July of 2020”, involving “guided question and answer sessions” with 41 members of the public.
Having asked the LSB for more information on how the research was carried out, the Bar Council said participants were shown videos and given ‘fact sheets’, one of which mentioned that “the list of activities that only regulated lawyers or law firms can provide hasn’t been reviewed for a long time”.