Law Society: Now's not the time to reorganise legal services
By Nicola Laver
With more than 70% of high street firms at risk, the legal sector needs to recover following covid-19, the Law Society said in response to a review of legal regulation
With more than seven in 10 high street firms at risk of closure, the legal sector needs to recover following covid-19, the Law Society said in response to the publication of an independent review of legal regulation.
In his report, Reforming Legal Services: Regulation beyond the echo chambers, Professor Stephen Mayson, 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 that 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 “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, also 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 71 per cent of high-street firms – particularly smaller firms – are under threat; and 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 its response to the report, that “regulation should be commensurate with risk”.
CLC’s chief executive Sheila Kumars 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.
CILEx 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.”
Given the impact on demand for legal services during the current crisis, the report also proposes short-term reforms - including a ‘parallel’ new structure to fast-track a public register for currently unregulated providers of legal services.