The Legal Services Board has rejected criticism from the Bar Council over its use of leading City law firm Hogan Lovells during the investigation into changes to the cab-rank rule.
Bar Council chairman Michael Todd QC said he was “somewhat surprised and dismayed” that the LSB had taken advice from the firm, arguing that Hogan Lovells had “already committed itself to a particular view” on the issue.
In January, the LSB issued a statutory warning notice that it is considering whether to reject changes to the cab-rank rule recommended by the Bar Standards Board (BSB). These changes would underpin proposed new standard contractual terms between barristers and solicitors.
It also published a summary of independent legal advice that it had taken from Hogan Lovells on barristers’ ability to contract and recover fees under the current and proposed arrangements. Hogan Lovells has been the LSB’s general legal adviser since January 2010.
The LSB wrote to stakeholders to seek views on the issue, and in his response Mr Todd raised the role of Hogan Lovells as one of his many concerns over the LSB’s stance.
“As would have been noticed from the summary of responses annexed to the BSB’s application, Hogan Lovells was one of the respondents to the consultation paper and I am accordingly somewhat surprised and dismayed that the LSB has subsequently taken advice from a firm which had already committed itself to a particular view,” he said.
Mr Todd also criticised the substance of the firm’s advice, speculating that it was based on an earlier version of the BSB’s proposals which was subsequently amended.
An LSB spokeswoman told Legal Futures: “We understand that the firm responded to a consultation in its own capacity. It was not representing the views of clients and did not consider any conflict arose. Its professional duties mean it is required to act in the LSB’s best interests when instructed to provide us with advice.”
A Hogan Lovells spokeswoman said the firm considered whether it was appropriate to advise the LSB. “[We] concluded that the firm’s response to the BSB’s consultation document did not impair our ability to give the LSB impartial advice.”
She dismissed the suggestion that the firm’s advice proceeded on a mistaken basis. “Our report was based on the available information and the point is not central to the subject of the report.”
The LSB is still considering the responses it received to the request for views and “will make our decision public in due course”, the spokeswoman said.