The Law Society is to carry out a complete review and overhaul of every aspect of its accreditation schemes after admitting that “little or no attention” has been paid to them for “some considerable time”.
Papers before last week’s meeting of the society’s membership board said the review will take place in the first half of 2011. As well as considering every organisational aspect of the schemes, it will look at the commercial opportunities they offer.
The review will also consider whether to establish a scheme for professional negligence lawyers.
In July 2009 the Law Society took over operation of the 11 accreditation schemes from the Solicitors Regulation Authority as they are not regulatory in nature. Initial work has focused on issues such as clearing the backlog of applications, but the papers say “it was clear from the outset that there was a need to carry out a complete review and overhaul of every aspect of the schemes as little or no attention had been paid to the rationale, quality assurance, content, process, assessor community or training providers for some considerable time”.
The schemes have around 15,000 members, although research released recently by the Legal Services Consumer Panel looked at participation rates in two of the schemes covering major practice areas and found them to be low: it said 9% of personal injury solicitors and 17% of family lawyers were on the society’s panels.
The consumer panel looked at this in the context of its research into how consumers judge the quality of legal services. “Whilst there are voluntary schemes to which lawyers can belong to demonstrate their expertise, there is nothing to prevent others from claiming to be specialists. The reality of this risk is shown in the participation rates in accreditation schemes,” it said.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Professional Negligence Lawyers Association has renewed its request to the society to consider establishing a panel. This is based on an expectation that the new approach to complaints resolution by the Legal Ombudsman could lead to an increase in consumer need to seek a legal remedy.
Further, the civil and commercial mediation panel is under review due to low membership numbers. The clinical negligence and family mediation panels also have low numbers.
The other panels cover children, criminal litigation, immigration and asylum, insolvency, mental health and planning law. Minutes from the interim accreditation scheme board indicate support for broadening membership of the schemes to non-solicitors.