The legal market is “too intimidating, too uniform and, in many cases, too expensive”, the new chairman of the Legal Services Board (LSB) has warned.
Sir Michael Pitt also said he would to like to see lawyers’ rulebooks slimmed down, with the board itself possibly producing a template for the individual regulators to work from.
The comments came in a newly published paper he presented to his first meeting of the LSB in May. In it, Sir Michael made no apologies for having a “consumer obsession” – despite the LSB being criticised for this in the past by some of the regulators and the senior judiciary. Indeed, he said it was his starting point.
“We still have a market which is far too intimidating, too uniform and, in many cases, too expensive,” he wrote. “I am aware that this is a wide generalisation and that the LSB’s work in recent years has helped to set the tectonic plates moving, but it still seems as if we have a great deal to do when it comes to improving the experience of the bulk of consumers – and, above all, their doubts about whether the law is really ‘for them’.”
He continued: “The legal sector is a part of the wider economy. It is clearly an important and valuable part, not least in terms of the aspects of public interest that it protects and promotes.
“But, in the wider economy, customers are generally best served by well-functioning markets, with public interest safeguards and regulation targeted only where justified in light of the fundamental characteristics of the market (for example, the inevitable disparities in knowledge between consumers and the professionals they consult).”
As he did later at his first press briefing, Sir Michael made clear in the document his support for the LSB’s blueprint for regulatory reform and particularly a single legal regulator, arguing that “it is hard to see how the sheer volume and complexity of the statutory framework can do anything other than get in the way of a crisp and clean relationship between the lawyer and client/consumer”.
Among his initial thoughts on key LSB activities were continuing to press the frontline regulators “hard” to improve their performance, and keeping will-writing regulation on the political agenda.
“One opportunity I am keen to explore is whether we can encourage further slimming of rulebooks by producing some form of model framework or template ourselves,” he added.
“It might capture the underlying principles of effective regulation which all the frontline regulators of legal services should share, encouraging a greater degree of convergence over time.”
Sir Michael also made clear his admiration for the profession. “I am starting from a position of deep respect for the ability, professionalism and ethical standards of lawyers and legal businesses,” he said, adding: “Although we will continue to bring challenge – and sometimes very significant challenge – to existing practices, we should ensure that we are proportionate and celebrate good practice when we see it.”