LSB tells regulators to get moving with ongoing competence reform


The legal regulators have been given six months to deliver action plans to the Legal Services Board (LSB) on how they are going to reform their regimes to ensure lawyers’ ongoing competence.

The LSB said it expected them to act with “ambition and pace” following the publication of the final version of its ongoing competence policy statement today.

It requires the regulators to set standards of competence, “get a better understanding of lawyers’ competence”, and set new measures to ensure standards are maintained.

“Before now, there were very few routine or formal measures to ensure lawyers kept their knowledge up-to-date while practising,” the LSB said. “This is out of step with public expectations and with approaches taken in other professions.”

The regulators have to put in place measures to “routinely collect relevant information about the competence of their authorised persons” – this could include spot checks, competency tests or regular reaccreditation.

The oversight regulator launched its review of continuing competence for lawyers two years ago and finalised the statement after consulting on a draft last December.

The goal of the statement of policy is to be “an effective, proportionate, and targeted regulatory tool to secure the necessary outcomes regarding the ongoing competence of legal professionals”.

The regulators are expected to ensure their competence regimes match up to the policy.

In a paper for this month’s meeting of its board, the LSB said: “We expect regulators to proceed with ambition and pace. We have communicated our plans to regulators extensively over the last three years and several regulators are already undertaking work in anticipation of the statement being issued.

“We maintain our view that regulators should seek to meet the outcomes and expectations within 18 months.”

The LSB said it expected regulators to prioritise setting the standards of competence that lawyers should meet “at the point of authorisation and throughout their careers”.

They should then “regularly determine the levels of competence within the professions they regulate”, identifying areas where competence may need to be improved and taking “remedial action” if necessary.

By the end of January 2023, regulators are expected to provide the LSB with updates and “an action plan for delivery over the remainder of the 18-month period, including milestones for meeting each of the outcomes during that time”.

The introduction of milestones came in response to concerns expressed in the consultation responses that 18 months was not long enough.

The final version of the competence statement is little changed from the draft version.

The LSB said it had added a paragraph making it clear that “regulators should identify and use opportunities to collaborate with each other in order to promote consistency in the interests of consumers”.

Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the LSB, added: “The public must be able to have confidence that lawyers have the right skills, knowledge and behaviours to protect our interests, enforce our rights and keep us safe.

“The changes introduced today will mean regulators provide greater assurance that their regulated professionals remain competent throughout their careers, not just when they enter the profession.

“Each regulator will need to develop an evidence-based approach to implementing our policy that is suitable for their regulated community.”

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