Regulators of the legal profession will have to gather and publish evidence of where lawyers are falling down on quality – including information on disciplinary action – following a wide-ranging review by the Legal Services Board (LSB).
Meanwhile, passing data on lawyers held on professional registers to legal comparison websites will be treated as proof that regulators are complying with the LSB’s approach to quality issues.
The board has also accepted recommendations made by the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) on voluntary quality schemes, including that scheme operators should carry out mystery shopping-type exercises and make use of consumer feedback.
Published on the day the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) named firms that were the subject of formal decisions on customer service, the LSB said responses to its consultation Approaches to quality, which closed on 1 June, broadly endorsed a range of “regulatory interventions to address quality risks”.
Frontline regulators are to be held to account by reference to “success criteria” on various themes, including being transparent about “performance information” to ensure better understanding of where problems over quality lie. Positive indicators of regulators’ compliance include publishing data they hold which touches on quality, such as “information on disciplinary action”.
Other information they will be expected to make public covers details of specialism, panel membership and quality marks, and they will have to open their professional registers to websites and others who assist consumers in choosing between legal services providers.
The LSB said: “Consumer ‘choice tools’ such as price comparison websites can… help address issues with information asymmetry between providers and consumers by providing a range of information including consumer feedback.”
Regulators will also have to feed in consumer feedback to their assessments of where “quality risks” reside.
If the regulators fail to publish all this information or do it in a way that is deemed too confusing, they will be judged to have failed.
Regulators will also have to show the LSB that they have gathered evidence on areas where the quality of legal services is at risk – including liaising with such bodies as LeO – and have tailored their regulatory policies on quality assurance accordingly. If, for example, they rely too heavily on lawyers’ entry and authorisation requirements, this will be considered to be inadequate.
Proof of the regulators’ outcomes-focused approach to boosting quality standards will be seen in their use of a “wide range of regulatory interventions”; exploring the use of a range of quality assurance mechanisms, including “earned recognition” schemes; and where there is no evidence of risk to quality, they will be expected to reduce the regulatory burden.
The board endorsed the LSCP’s recommendations for the operators of voluntary quality schemes and encouraged the panel to review the schemes at a later date to measure progress. In its November 2011 report Voluntary quality schemes in legal services, the panel advised the LSB that scheme operators should: measure ongoing competence – for instance by using spot checks or mystery shopping; make consumer information clearer; develop schemes with “lay input” and consumer feedback; and collect, analyse and publish data to “validate scheme claims”.
LSB chief executive Chris Kenny said: “Achieving innovative high-quality service to consumers is at the heart of effective modern regulation. That demands sharper identification of issues, more targeted intervention using a wide range of tools and greater transparency about the results, rather than the old approach of prescriptive blanket rules.
“We’re delighted that the consultation revealed broad support for that approach. We’re similarly not setting blanket rules for the approved regulators, but we will expect them to be able to show through their work on regulatory effectiveness how they’re making progress.”