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Sir Michael Pitt: the Legal Services Act ‘defies logic’

The UK legal services sector can expect further turbulence over the next few years

11 March 2015

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By John van der Luit-Drummond, Legal Reporter, Solicitors Journal ()

Although the Legal Services Act was successful in shaking up the UK legal sector, the legislation is too complex and - in parts - "defies logic", Sir Michael Pitt has said.

Speaking at the Modern Law Conference 2015, the chair of the Legal Services Board (LSB) remarked that the legal services sector could expect a period of "turbulence" in the next few years and that it was the collective responsibility of the legal regulators to navigate through such instability for the benefit of consumers, the public and practitioners.

He also commented that, while more could be done within the existing legislation, a replacement of the Legal Services Act would require major political investment.

"In the absence of an appetite for change, the legal services regulators have been considering a handful of relatively minor amendments to the Act to resolve some of its shortcomings which might be piggybacked on other government legislation," said Sir Michael.

The regulators have now provisionally agreed six proposals to submit to ministers, which include bringing the regulation of alternative business structures (ABSs) more closely in line with the regulation of other providers, as well as simplifying and reducing the time taken to make orders under the Legal Services Act.

However, Sir Michael did not shy away from rethinking the Act altogether. "It is not a task for a single organisation to undertake," he said. "Our aim is to channel the energy of all of the regulators who, day-in day-out, deal with the consequences of the Legal Services Act and other related legislation. We are working constructively and systematically with partners by drawing on the best available evidence from the legal services sector in the UK and abroad."

He continued: "Is there a single unifying solution that will be embraced by all? I doubt it! Rather, this work is about identifying a range of realistic possibilities so that incoming ministers can make an informed choice and more fully understand the options open to them."

Sir Michael said he was conscious that, with the possibility of a new government taking office in a few weeks, the LSB's plans needed to retain some flexibility. However, he did expect ministers to turn their attention towards the limitations of the Legal Services Act sooner or later.

"I dare say that legal services regulation will not occupy much space in the various party manifestos, but we can expect to see a continued period of limited funding."

He added: "In this economic climate, it is more important than ever that the LSB and the regulators ask ourselves what we can do to make the legal services sector work better…we all have a collective responsibility to navigate the legal services sector through the uncertainty and the potential turbulence."

Sir Michael added that he was still "surprised" by the extremes within the legal sector.

"Our legal system is admired around the world, but I know that many of you share my worry that there is significant unmet legal need in society. There are many people and small businesses with legal problems who decide, usually for reasons of cost, to attempt to solve them alone. This is a lost opportunity for consumers and providers."

First published in sister publication Solicitors Journal



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