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Discrimination and lack of diversity threaten the Bar’s future

BSB chair says barrister profession must work with regulator to modernise

7 October 2015

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The risk of discrimination, lack of diversity, and outmoded working practices could limit the barrister profession's ability to meet the needs of consumers.

In his first keynote speech as chair of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), Sir Andrew Burns urged barristers to engage with the regulator on the future direction of Bar regulation.

The BSB is in the final year of its three-year strategic plan and is seeking input from attendees about what it should focus on during 2016-19.

Speaking at a networking function at Lincoln's Inn, Sir Andrew said: 'The most significant changes to legal regulation have been changing consumer demands and expectations, technological advances, and global competition.

'These factors place both the public interest and the free market above preservation of traditional practices and what some see as "vested interests". We're already seeing the effect of some of these pressures in the market.'

Sir Andrew highlighted the increasing numbers of litigants in person, reductions in public funding, and reform of the court system as the leading market pressures.

The former diplomat said the BSB had to resolve how best to maintain the rule of law and improve access to justice with changing consumer needs and the Bar's ability to adapt and prosper.

In addition, the regulator has to reconcile the high professional standards for entry to and practice in the profession, with an increasingly strong drive from government to lower the costs of legal services, reduce regulation, promote competition and innovation, and encourage new business models.

The BSB's chair explained that the regulator planned on taking a risk-based approach to its role, meaning it will look to understand where things are going wrong for consumers and where the rule of law is being put at risk, as well as a focus on areas where it can make the biggest difference.

Sir Andrew said there was a risk the profession was failing to meet changing consumer needs, driven by technology and further complicated by low levels of public understanding of what is available from the legal profession.

He added that economic pressures, market uncertainty, and commercial strain could affect the quality, independence, availability, and supply of legal services.

The new chair commented: 'The BSB would like to nurture a deep dialogue with the profession and consumers so that what we propose and what we do can be demonstrably and incontestably evidence-based and risk-focused.

'We want to take a 360-degree look at some of the key issues we have identified in the Bar to build stronger insights and target more effective interventions where they may be needed. We are looking for new and creative ways to do this. This sort of engagement with experts, innovators and key stakeholders is core to the new way of working at the BSB.'

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