Legal sector must 'reinvent' itself to meet society's needs
The basic legal needs of many in society remain unmet, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has concluded in its 2020 10-year report
The basic legal needs of many in society remain unmet, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has concluded in its 2020 10-year report.
In its State of Legal Services Report 2020, the LSB looked at the legal sector’s performance over the last decade and found that while citizens now have more choice when looking for legal advice, there are still significant barriers.
Every year in England and Wales, 3.6m adults have unmet legal needs involving disputes; and more than a third have little confidence of achieving a fair and positive outcome when faced with a legal problem.
The pandemic has, said the super-regulator, exacerbated existing social inequalities and made it even more urgent to have services that meet society’s needs.
It found there is a need to widen public access to legal advice and support.
Three key areas were identified for improvement: ensuring fairer outcomes; stronger confidence in legal professionals; and better services.
The LSB is to consult on a new strategy for the sector and said: “It will be important to ensure that regulatory bodies put the interests of the public and consumers at the heart of everything they do.”
Legal Services Board chair Dr Helen Phillips said: “Despite the real successes of the last decade, many of the critical challenges facing the legal sector today existed when the Legal Services Act came into force.
“This partly reflects that it continues to be difficult for people to know when they have a legal problem and to engage with the legal services market and shop around.
“It also reflects policy decisions taken over a long period relating to the publicly funded legal sector.
“However, as our report lays out, there is an opportunity for the sector to reinvent itself and embrace a culture that puts the needs of consumers at its heart.”
She said it we are successful, unmet needs will be reduced and a much more equal experience for consumers will be provided.
“Shopping around will be the norm”, she added, “and people will find it easier to find and compare providers and reward firms offering high quality and affordable services.”
Phillips said everyone across the sector will have to “work together”
Responding to the report, the Law Society highlighted the fact it has long advocated for greater access to justice, adding: “As the LSB’s report notes, while some regulatory intervention may help, many consumers will not have the means to fund their legal services costs, no matter how competitively priced it is, making public funding absolutely crucial to ensure early and effective advice.
“Help for people that the government agrees should be available is simply not there”, it said.
The Society’s president David Greene said: “The LASPO implementation review resulted in several promising proposals to improve civil legal aid.
“There is ongoing work on the Criminal Legal Aid Review, with recommendations due to be published in 2021, but progress has been slow and hindered by covid-19.”
One of the issues raised in the LSB is that of clients being able to shop around for their legal representation.
Greene commented: “An area which is often overlooked is low public legal literacy and confidence.
“Making people aware of how to recognise legal issues and from whom to seek help could increase people’s access to justice and reduce unmet demand.”