Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Solicitors not interested in 'machinations' of regulators, says Law Society president

Solicitors not interested in 'machinations' of regulators, says Law Society president


Jonathan Smithers calls on solicitors to embrace new technology, such as artificial intelligence

Solicitors are more interested in the 'big issues' plaguing the justice system than the 'machinations of the legal regulators', the Law Society president has declared.

Speaking on the first day of the LegalEx 2016 conference in London, Jonathan Smithers said that practitioners across England and Wales were far more concerned with cuts to legal aid and continuing concerns over access to justice than government plans to review legal regulation.

Last year, the Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, announced his intention to conduct a review of the Legal Services Act. In response, the Legal Services Board said there was a 'compelling case to introduce a new regulatory settlement' for the legal sector.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has since pushed for full independence from the Law Society in regulatory matters, claiming that a break from Chancery Lane would allow it to implement policies that would 'promote the regulatory objectives in a more efficient and effective manner' and reduce bureaucracy and unnecessary barriers in the market.

The public calls for separation has led to a war of words between Chancery Lane and the Birmingham-based regulator, which continues to rumble on.

Responding to an audience question as to what regulation of the sector would look like by 2020, Smithers said he was not convinced by arguments to separate the representative body from the regulator and repeated the society's position that the solicitor profession should remain 'independent of government control'.

'Many practitioners have told me: "If it isn't broke, don't fix it",' added Smithers.

The comments came following a keynote session in which the society's president called on solicitors to embrace new technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI).

Fears that a rise of AI would see lawyers replaced by robots have previously been dismissed by the president.

Smithers used his speech to urge the profession to 'stop playing catch up' to an industry that is predicted to be worth US$580bn (£401bn) by 2020 and work with government and technology giants to shape new laws as the impact of new technology - such as drones and driverless cars - is felt.

Smithers, who steps down as president this summer, said solicitors were less likely to embrace new technology because they were acutely aware of the risks that come with new developments.

Asked whether law firms were reluctant to use AI because it would reduce the billable hours model still employed by most firms, Smithers said that solicitors were 'sophisticated business people' who are able to adapt to changes in their businesses.

He added that the implementation of AI in taking over repetitive tasks would allow solicitors to turn their attention to business development and client care.

'Technology makes solicitors think differently about the future,' he said. 'Technology should be our ally and not our rival.'