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Self-lawyering is the future of legal services

LSB report finds unregulated market will only expand and is here to stay

18 November 2014

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DIY law will become the alternative to lawyers in 2020, by which time lawyers will be cut out altogether, a new report has found.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel found consumers will seek alternatives to lawyers or use them in different ways in years to come.

The report also found services will be provided via technology-enabled DIY solutions, unbundled provision and new regulated and unregulated entrants. The report also projects that calls will be made for radical solutions to the lack of legal aid funding, such as an inquisitorial style of justice and online dispute resolution - both of which have no need for lawyers.

The LSB commissioned the report, '2020 Legal Services' to inform the development of its next three year strategy, covering the period 2015/18. Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said extending legal services to those currently excluded from the market was a key priority for regulators in the years ahead. "The reforms can only be judged a success if by 2020 access to legal services is extended to people who are currently excluded from the market - this must be a key priority for regulators in the years ahead. There's a danger vulnerable consumers will get left behind as competition benefits only those who are already empowered."

The influence of technology will also have a big part to play in the law of the future, but will also bring "digital detriments" to contend with.

According to the report, '[Technology] has the potential to greatly enhance access to justice, but it shouldn't be viewed as a panacea since many people aren't online and it can't always substitute effectively for the human touch.'

Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, agreed last week that there is the opportunity for technology to play a bigger part in legal proceedings.

"Do we need to look in certain areas at a more inquisitorial procedure? That is one solution. Do we need to use more online dispute resolution for small claims? We now have, for the first time in probably a hundred years, the opportunity for significant investment in the IT and court estate, and we need to look at how we best design it," he said.

Legal services are also likely to be operated in a more business-like environment, resulting in sophisticated marketing and commercial practices seen in other markets that have, according to the report, caused detriment.

'As professional boundaries continue to blur there will be greater focus on whether competition between groups of lawyers is working fairly,' the report says, 'unregulated businesses are likely to become a greater presence in the market.'

Davies said technological developments and a more business-like environment would benefit consumers, but also bring new types of problems to contend with.

"Maintaining a robust safety net will be vital and this will require regulators to update their toolkits, acquire new skills and forge new partnerships with national and local consumer protection agencies," she said.

Davies added that the unregulated market was here to stay: "It's not going away, it's only going to get bigger. Regulators need to play their part in raising standards and extending routes to redress across the whole sector to deliver better services for consumers."

The report also found the future holds strengthened consumer rights, transparency on provider performances and greater access to redress, making consumers across the economy more empowered.

Laura Clenshaw is managing editor of Solicitors Journal

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