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Lawyers 'walking backwards slowly', Edmonds says

Bar's criticism dismissed as futile arguments

15 May 2012

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Sections of the legal profession are deliberately refusing to acknowledge the changing nature of the sector and of the need to adjust their professional compass, David Edmonds has said.

Responding to criticism at the ‘Enforcing regulatory standards in a liberalised market’ debate, the Legal Services Board chairman refuted accusations that his organisation had been micro-managing the introduction of new regulatory rules beyond its statutory duty to assist frontline regulators.

“Significant parts of lawyers’ remarks tonight could fall in the category of ‘walking backwards slowly’,” he said at the event, organised by law firm Russell-Cooke.

Edmonds coined the phrase when he became the telecoms regulator to describe “the ability of an institution coming into a regulatory role for the first time of resisting every new initiative, every possible change, any kind of innovation, any kind of outward looking because it felt it was the way it was best defending the interests of its members”.

He singled out the Bar, calling “rather futile” the arguments put forward about what the Legal Services Act said in relation to the LSB’s role.

Edmonds retorted that a drop in complaints to the legal ombudsman, fewer SRA investigations or referrals to the SDT, and avoiding a repeat of the miners’ compensation scandal would all be positive measures of the success of OFR.

Although agreeing that it was not possible to predict whether this would happen he said this needed to be considered in the broader context.

But he dismissed claims that the LSB had gone beyond its statutory remit and that he had called the system not fit for purpose.

“The legislation is quite clear: it does say we have a duty to assist in the maintenance and development of standards and regulatory practices in the education and training of lawyers. What I did following a huge amount of discussions, including with the BSB chairman at the time, was to make a speech about 18 months ago, suggesting there could be – that it could be useful for there to be – a review of legal education. I never said – it keeps being quoted at me by the Bar Council – that the legal education system was unfit for purpose,” he said.

Rejecting further suggestions the supervisory regulator didn’t understand how the legal services sector worked, he said he was “very proud of what we’ve done in terms of stimulating debate around education and training, of the work we’ve done in illustrating that the consumer is at the heart of ?regulation, of much of the work we’ve done on diversity and equal opportunities”.

“I don’t like the implication ‘we don’t understand’ how the Bar works, how other parts of the legal system works. I think we do. I think we understand very well,” he concluded.