A combined digital register of regulated and unregulated legal services providers would be “the simplest solution” to improve consumer navigation of the market, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has said.
However, this is still some time away, with the initial focus instead on a single register of all regulated lawyers.
The Competition and Market Authority (CMA) first recommended a single register of all regulated lawyers in 2016, but according to a paper for today’s meeting of the LSB board, the frontline regulators decided in 2017 that “the time was not right to undertake that work”.
The CMA repeated its recommendation last year and said the LSB should lead its development.
For now, each regulator has its own register, but the LSB said they have collectively “developed a ‘help me trust my lawyer product’ accessible via Legal Choices in beta form, which scans the registers of the participating regulators and provides disciplinary data to the enquirer”.
The regulators “plan to scope work required to expand the range of data covered by the product to include non-disciplinary data, offering single-register type functionality”.
The LSB said the “principal benefit” of a single register was “likely to be providing the raw materials that will enable digital comparison tools [like comparison websites] to grow”, while open data initiatives of this kind could lead to “unforeseen benefits and innovations”.
The CMA also recommended the creation of a mandatory public register of unregulated providers, without specifying its scope or who would operate it.
The oversight regulator said there were “interdependencies” between the proposals for regulated and unregulated providers.
“Ultimately, a combined register of regulated and unregulated providers would be the simplest solution for consumers. Should the single digital register proceed, it could be built in a way that enables unregulated providers to easily be added at a later stage.”
The LSB warned that a mandatory register for unregulated providers was still “some years away” because it would need primary legislation.
There were also “a series of policy questions” that officials would need to work through, including who or what services should be covered, whether participation would be mandatory, who would create and operate the register, and how it would be funded.
If consumer redress was a condition of registration, there would be “a further set of issues” over how disputes would be resolved, including extending the Legal Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
The LSB said one of the options was for it to operate the register, putting it “in the unusual position of being an oversight regulator in one part of the market and a frontline regulator in another part of the market”.
The LSB board will today be invited to agree that the organisation should “actively pursue” a single digital register of authorised persons in conjunction with the regulatory bodies, with the initial focus on policy options and assessing feasibility and cost.
The board is also being asked to agree that the LSB should “engage with MoJ officials as they develop their thinking” on a mandatory register for unregulated businesses.