LSB praises “impressive progress” made by smallest regulator

Heath: Smaller regulators can be just as effective as larger counterparts

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has commended the “impressive progress” made by the Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB) – the smallest of the legal regulators – in meeting its performance framework.

The framework measures each regulatory body against five standards and 27 underpinning outcomes.

The CLSB is the smallest of the legal regulators in terms of its regulated community – 707 costs lawyers as at the end of last year, according to LSB figures. The Faculty Office oversaw 728 notaries.

While the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales regulates fewer individuals (for probate work) – 546 – it also supervises 339 practices.

The CLSB initially struggled to achieve the standards and in January 2019 it was identified as the poorest-performing regulator, with nine unmet outcomes at one stage. But a change of leadership led to an improvement plan being put in place.

Four were still outstanding at the turn of the year, but an updated assessment said there was now only one – that “regulatory arrangements and associated guidance documentation are informed by learning gathered from all of the regulator’s work including its risk assessment and enforcement work”.

The LSB said “considerable progress” has been made towards meeting this too, and it would assess a further update in October.

Alongside this outcome, “we expect CLSB to demonstrate how it has used ongoing reflection and evaluation across all the standards to improve its performance year-on-year”.

LSB chief executive Matthew Hill, who has previously expressed concern about the viability of the smaller regulators, said: “This is welcome progress for one of the legal services sector’s smallest regulators. CLSB has demonstrated its commitment to addressing the weaknesses identified through our performance assessments.

“There remains work to do, and we expect CLSB to maintain this pace of improvement and demonstrate how it will evaluate and learn from its progress to increase performance year-on-year in pursuit of the regulatory objectives.

“This means the public and the profession can have confidence that, among other things, the regulator is consumer-focused, well-led, makes evidence-based decisions and is committed to improving diversity and inclusion.”

CLSB chair David Heath, the former government minister appointed earlier this year, said: “This assessment puts the CLSB toward the top of the LSB’s league table, confirming that smaller regulators can be just as effective as their larger counterparts.

“Our size requires us to be creative and resourceful in finding solutions to problems, and it’s great to see the LSB acknowledging that there is more than one way to meet the standards it sets for the sector.”

Chief executive Kate Wellington added: “Over the last two years we have made wholesale changes to our culture, operations and regulatory approach. The LSB’s performance assessment is the latest indication that these changes are having the impact we hoped for.

“Costs Lawyers play an important role in the legal market and they deserve a well-performing regulator. I’m very pleased to be able to say that the CLSB more than fits that bill.”

Claire Green, chair of the Association of Costs Lawyers – the profession’s representative body – commented: “We recognise the importance of a strong and capable regulator for the reputation of, and confidence in, the Costs Lawyer profession.

“The CLSB should be commended for the work that has gone into meeting the LSB’s requirements, which reinforces the value of solicitors and others instructing fully trained and regulated Costs Lawyers.

“Our working relationship with the CLSB has never been better and the recent appointment of David Heath as chair shows that its trajectory continues upwards.”

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