Research: Consumers find multiplicity of legal regulators confusing

Confusion: Consumers want prefer simpler regulatory regime

The public finds different regulators for different part of the legal profession confusing and backs the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) taking oversight of chartered legal executives, SRA research has found.

Researchers also found large majorities in favour of similar standards for solicitors and chartered legal executives, and similar protections for clients in the same area of law.

The survey of 1,000 consumers suggested that a large proportion of the public are not aware of how the legal market in England and Wales is regulated currently.

Just over a third correctly indicated that some legal services are regulated and 9% correctly identified that there are between six and 10 legal regulators.

“Having recently used a legal services provider does not improve a respondent’s knowledge of legal regulation,” the research said.

Following an explanation of how the legal market was regulated, 92% of respondents said having different regulators was confusing, of whom 37% found it “extremely” confusing. It was not much lower among those who said they had a good understanding of legal matters.

The survey by online consumer panel provider Prolific last month was commissioned to inform the plans for Chartered Institute of Legal Executive to transfer the regulation of chartered legal executives from CILEX Regulation Ltd to the SRA.

When respondents were shown the eight legal regulators and asked which they were aware of, a third knew the SRA but only 4% CILEX.

More than half (52%) had heard of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, 27% the Bar Standards Board and 18% the Council for Licensed Conveyancers

Awareness was generally higher among respondents who had recently used a lawyer.

Following an explanation of the proposals, exactly eight out of ten consumers supported having similar standards for solicitors and CILEX lawyers, and 90% similar protections for clients in the same area of law.

Nine out of ten also agreed that “having one regulator providing information on the two types of lawyers is likely to make it easier to compare the legal services providers they regulate”.

A slightly larger majority (92%) supported “making it clear to consumers the services which can be provided by solicitors and also by CILEX lawyers and which cannot”, while 86% “think having one regulator covering both legal professionals is better than separate ones” (47% said ‘much better’).

Asked for any comments, two-thirds provided positive feedback. The SRA said: “They welcomed reducing the number of regulators, feeling this would provide consistency, reduce confusion making it easier to compare legal services providers.”

One in 10 consumers were against the proposals in their comments, with some feeling that “the proposals may lead to a loss of specialisation and the possible ‘watering down’ of legal services” and others concerned by “the increased regulatory burden if insufficient resources are available”.

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