The Legal Services Board (LSB) has issued a thinly veiled warning to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) over the need to invest “substantially” in consumer information after its controversial decision to withdraw from funding Legal Choices.
Legal Choices is the consumer-facing website advising members of the public on dealing with lawyers, set up in 2012. Until now, it has been collectively run and paid for by all the legal regulators.
However, as we revealed last month, the BSB stopped its contribution from 1 November, saying it could best offer the public information about how to get legal help from barristers via its own website, which was relaunched last month.
Since the Competition and Markets Authority highlighted the potential value of Legal Choices in 2016, investment has increased substantially, with the regulators collectively paying £250,000 a year as a part of a three-year development programme.
In a recently published blog following its October board meeting, LSB chair Dr Helen Phillips said members discussed how important it was that the legal services regulators continued to support the development of Legal Choices as it moved into the final year of the development programme, which is focused on marketing and promotion.
She continued: “The board was very clear that it would be premature to measure the success of the initiative before it had been given the chance to realise its potential.
“We were also very clear that any regulator that chose not to support Legal Choices would have to invest significantly in alternatives in order to satisfy us that it was performing satisfactorily in this area, a point we have made plain in discussions with regulators.”
The LSB has confirmed that the BSB is the only regulator to have withdrawn funding.
A BSB spokesman said: “The board are currently reviewing our approach to public legal education and we will be announcing our plans in due course.”
The BSB has also been clear that it was still be happy to contribute content to Legal Choices, despite no longer paying for it.
Speaking at a meeting last week of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Public Legal Education and Pro Bono, Sarah Chambers – chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel – expressed her disappointment at the BSB’s decision, predicting that Legal Choices would be “a valuable one-stop shop” that would provide “a large part of the answer” for people looking for a lawyer.
Paul Philip, chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said it hoped Legal Choices would be “a sector-wide project”, but ultimately it was a decision for the BSB. But he stressed that the plan for this year would be delivered.
One new development for Legal Choices is the launch soon of four apps in beta mode – one on dealing with eviction, a legal glossary, a ‘trust my lawyer’ app that shows disciplinary records, and one assisting intermediaries when dealing with people in need.