Competitiveness in the legal market and the impact of lawtech on access to justice are among the research priorities the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has set out for the next three to five years.
Diversity in the profession and legal aid also featured in the newly published guide to its areas of research interest, which will be used as the basis for discussions between the MoJ and “experts in academia, research organisations and funding bodies”.
What works in terms of promoting and maintaining competitiveness between providers, so consumers can “access quality services at a fair and accessible price, whilst growing the market overall”, is a question that will attract the attention of regulators.
The Competition and Markets Authority is due to publish in the next week or so an update on the progress made following its 2016 report on competition in the professions.
Researchers also want to identify “the scale, scope and function of the unregulated legal services market” – work the Legal Services Board is planning for next year – and the effectiveness of complaints mechanisms.
Questions on the legal profession include why “recruitment, career progression and pathways, and retention” vary by protected characteristics, and by socio-economic background.
“What are the enablers to encouraging and sustaining greater diversity – in terms of protected characteristics and socio-economic background – in the legal profession, particularly within senior roles?”
The MoJ also questioned how “sustainable” certain roles within the legal sector were, particularly “criminal defence and specialist legal roles such as mental health lawyers”.
It raised similar questions about diversity in the judiciary, with an added question as to what “‘ideal’ judicial diversity” might look like.
Lawtech priorities include how much investment is taking place, how cost effective it is and how it might “shape the future requirements of, and services offered by, the legal profession and sector”.
How lawtech and innovation could support greater access to justice was of particular interest.
Related questions focus on how employment within the legal sector might change because of technology and investment, and the ethical considerations of lawtech.
On legal aid, researchers ask how people “perceive their experiences of legal aid services”, what the outcomes were of receiving it and how “geographical and demographic factors affect legal aid awareness and uptake”.
In a section on overseas and trade, the MoJ said it wanted to find out which legal activities were being carried out by UK firms and lawyers “permanently established in non-EU, overseas and emerging markets”.
The barriers, “including regulatory barriers”, to legal services trade with overseas markets were highlighted, along with the need for levers to overcome them.
The MoJ document also raised a host of issues around the courts and criminal justice.
In a foreword to the report, MoJ chief social reseachers Alexy Buck and Rachel Dubourg said: “We need to understand who, why and how people come into contact with our system and what we can do to improve their experiences and outcomes.
“As a department, we are committed to enhancing the way data and evidence is used, to shape policy and operational decisions and drive improvements to justice outcomes.”