Focus on Recovery not Reform
With more than 70 per cent high street firms at risk of closure, the legal sector needs to recover following covid-19, the Law Society said in response to an independent review of legal regulation. In his report, Reforming Legal Services: Regulation beyond the echo chambers, Professor Stephen Mayson – who is Honorary Professor of Law at UCL – concluded all legal services providers whether or not qualified should be registered and regulated by a single regulator. He said the current arrangement of ten front-line regulators plus an oversight regulator is “cumbersome”. However, the Society said recovery not more regulatory reform should be at the heart of our efforts.
Law Society president Simon Davis described the report as “an interesting contribution” to the debate about effective regulation of legal services. But he added that “the immediate focus of policy makers should be thinking about how to make better use of the current regulatory framework, deliver effective public legal education, resource legal aid properly and ensure the survival of the vulnerable parts of legal services…” Efforts should, he said, be directed at “restoring trust in the crumbling criminal justice system; getting the court system and the economy up and running, ensuring that well-run firms do not go under as a result of covid-19”.
Davis warned that firms “need more support, not the added burdens of a regulatory upheaval and uncertainty”. New research showed many firms believe they may have to close their doors in the next six months because of the crisis. The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) said in response to Mayson’s report that “regulation should be commensurate with risk”.
The CLC’s chief executive Sheila Kumar said it is widely recognised that there are regulatory gaps that create risk. But she added: “Stretching a single regulatory framework across the full range of legal services is not an obvious solution to the needs of a dynamic legal sector.” However, CILEx said changes are “badly needed” and welcomed the activity-based measures proposed by Professor Mayson. Its chair, Professor Chris Bones, commented: “If you want your teeth seen to, you don’t visit a GP. Yet in legal services this generalist approach is still the basic building block of representation: at times to the detriment of consumers.” Because of the pandemic’s impact on demand for legal services, the report proposes short-term reforms including a ‘parallel’ new structure to fast-track a public register for currently unregulated providers of legal services.