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Tinkering with legal services market risks jeopardising future economic success

UK legal sector supports a healthy wider economy, says Law Society

22 March 2016

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The government has been warned that tinkering with the legal services legislation and regulation risks jeopardising the UK economy.

The first ever study of the wider economic value of UK legal services found that 8,000 new jobs were created and £379m added to the economy for every 1 per cent growth in the sector.

The findings of the latest report from the Law Society suggest that every £1 of extra turnover in the legal sector stimulates £1.39 in the rest of the economy.

An analysis by Cambridge Econometrics estimated that every 100 extra jobs in legal services supports a further 67 jobs across the UK.

Growth in the sector has averaged 3.3 per cent every year for the last decade, compared to real growth in the national economy as a whole of 1.2 per cent. The sector grew by 8 per cent from 2014 to 2015.

Meanwhile, net exports of legal services have also grown in value by an average of 5.6 per cent per annum over the last ten years, to £3.6bn in 2014.

The Law Society's chief executive, Catherine Dixon, said that the provision of expert legal services was fundamental to commerce and underpinned the 'fabric of society'.

'From high street solicitors to global law firms, and from in-house solicitors to those who operate in alternative business models, our research shows that growth in legal services significantly contributes to the wider economy, boosting investment and jobs.

'The legal profession is proud to make an important and measurable contribution to the wider UK economy,' continued Dixon.

'That contribution is even greater when taking into account the very important benefits solicitors provide in terms of completing business and commercial transactions, resolving disputes, facilitating investment and innovation, and advising people every day on issues which affect their lives.'

However, adding a note of caution, Dixon explained that legal services operated in a 'complex and fragile ecosystem'.

In a thinly veiled warning to government, Chancery Lane's chief exec said it was important that proposed changes to legal services regulation, or the legislative framework, were 'fully considered' to avoid any 'unintended consequences of change'.

Such changes, she argued, could put the UK's position as the legal jurisdiction of choice for international clients at risk and, therefore, jeopardising the 'future success' of the sector.

Nevertheless, change may be coming. The Competition and Markets Authority is to undertake a market study into the legal sector and examine concerns over affordability and service standards.

Moreover, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is pressing ahead with its campaign to be made wholly independent of the Law Society, a plan that is ardently opposed by Chancery Lane.

The escalating war of words between the regulator and the profession's representative body shows no signs of abating, with the SRA's chief executive, Paul Philip, recently opining that the Law Society's trade union style membership model was 'outdated' and in need of reform.

Speaking at Solicitors Journal Live 2016, the Law Society's president, Jonathan Smithers, said: 'At a time of uncertainty it is vital that we create a new regulatory landscape to protect England and Wales as the global jurisdiction of choice. The perception of legal independence, free from state interference, is crucial.

'The Law Society believes that the profession should be responsible for setting the standard of entry and to award the professional title of solicitor.'

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