California Board of Trustees introduces new measures to improve the disciplinary system

At its July 23 meeting, the California State Bar Board of Trustees took steps to strengthen the discipline system in the state, these include establishing a special committee—the Committee on the Special Discipline Case Audit—to undertake an analysis into the disciplinary system in the state, with a particular focus on misappropriation of client funds. The Board also directed this new committee, chaired by Trustee José Cisneros, to work with staff to develop recommendations to strengthen regulation of attorney client trust accounts. As well as this the board recommended new regulations for implementation, focused on attorney ethics and discipline. These include:

  • Conducting proactive, random audits of attorney client trust accounts;
  • Requiring some or all attorneys to have their trust accounts regularly audited by Certified Public Accountants;
  • Requiring annual self-funded audits and reporting of client trust accounts;
  • Proposing new and amended statutes, State Bar rules, rules of professional conduct, and other rules governing attorney conduct as well as standards governing discipline for client trust account violations; and
  • Assessing technology and other tools that can be employed in this effort.

The Board expects to finalise a set of recommendations by the end of the year, and if implemented these changes would put California at the forefront of client fund protection in the USA. Boar Chair Sean SeLegue has said: “The Board’s actions today demonstrate resolve to identify and remedy shortcomings in our discipline system that impact the State Bar’s ability to carry out its public protection mission. That includes not only ensuring that attorney ethical violations are properly investigated and prosecuted but also innovative means of preventing misconduct and harm to the public from occurring in the first place.”

Read more about the recommendations here. 

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Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner releases new guide on innovative pricing models

New research undertaken by the Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner (LSB), through both their complaints and auditing process, has found that a major consumer complaint has been the billing model adopted by lawyers. With many lawyers opting for an hourly rater rather than a value based price. The LSB has found that this creates uncertainty as well as lowering productivity and discouraging the use of products to improve efficiency, for example, technology. As well as this the model creates a pressure on lawyers to hit billing targets, negatively impacting lawyer wellbeing.

Client research has also suggested that this is likely to cause access to justice issues, with many clients avoiding hiring a lawyer due to fears that the costs may spiral and leave them worse off, creating a perception of poor value for money in the legal services market.

The LSB has therefore released research and analysis into two pricing models, the agreed price model (whereby the service is commissioned at a fixed price) and the subscription model (whereby clients pay a recurring stable fee, in exchange for work whenever they need it). The research looks at the benefit of these models in comparison to the hourly rate, as well as looking at how firms may implement these new models.

Read more here. 

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Bar Standards Board of England and Wales publishes new research on consumers’ expectations and experience of working with barristers

On the 4th of August, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) published research on consumers’ expectations and experience of working with barristers, with the goal of using an evidence-based approach to better understand consumer needs and barrister relationships. The research, which was undertaken by an independent research agency involved in-depth interviews with 50 consumers, all of whom had used a barrister in the two years preceding the project (therefore referred to as clients of barristers), this was followed up by focus group discussions involving 12 participants aiming to explore some of the issues raised in more detail. The research sample focused on both clients who had been referred to their barristers by a solicitor, and Public Access clients who chose their barristers directly.

The key findings from the research show that:

  • Few clients are confident that they can deal with a legal matter when it first occurs. With it being a new experience for the majority of respondents
  • Many clients who are referred by a solicitor to their barrister are referred to just one barrister, with little involvement in the decision
  • At the start of their engagement with a barrister, most clients have little understanding of a barristers’ role and duties or how the relationship should work, with more work needed to be done by barristers to clarify this
  • Most clients were satisfied with the way their barrister dealt with the legal process. Key indicators of good service identified by clients included: professionalism; approachability; friendliness and empathy; experience and knowledge; and accessibility

BSB Head of Policy and Research, Rupika Madhura, said: “This is an important piece of research which will help us gain a deeper insight into the experience of barristers’ clients. It complements others’ recent studies about consumers’ experience in the legal services market, and will help inform our work in various areas, in particular the review of the Code of Conduct expected of barristers.”

Read more about the research here. 

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The Law Society of New South Wales releases guide to help law firms tackle discrimination and harassment

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has released a guide to assist NSW law firms to identify and eliminate discrimination and harassment, both in employment practices in the workplace and during the recruitment process. The guide includes a checklist-style approach to decision-making and implementation procedure. Helping firms to ensure they are meeting best practice standards, as well as model discrimination and harassment policies, which firms can adopt, including:

  • Model Equal Opportunity Policy
  • Model Anti-Harassment Policy
  • Model Grievance Handling Procedure.

President of the NSW Law Society, Juliana Warner said: “This Guide and accompanying Model Policies are intended to identify practitioners’ current legal obligations under antidiscrimination law and provide practical tools for NSW law firms and legal practices to identify and eliminate discrimination and harassment in recruitment and employment practices. It forms part of the Law Society’s ongoing work to assist law firms and legal practices create more diverse and inclusive legal workplaces where everyone feels safe, secure and supported. Since the Law Society first developed an Equal Opportunity Policy in 1996, we have demonstrated a firm and ongoing commitment to the principles and practice of fairness of opportunity and diversity in the legal profession.”

Read more about the guide here. 

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Law Council of Australia releases webinar on frontline legal services in times of crisis

The Law Council of Australia has released a webinar looking at legal regulation in times of crisis, and how regulators can respond to external crises in the most effective and empathetic manner. The webinar draws on the experience of Australian regulators who have been through this years bushfires as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and looks at their responses  and achievements over the period.

Panellist included Ms Rowan McRae (Executive Director Civil Justice, Access and Equity, Victoria Legal Aid), Mr Nassim Arrage, CEO (CLCs Australia) and Mr David Woodroffe, (Principal Legal Officer, NAAJA). The session was moderated by Law Council President, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC.

Watch the webinar here. 

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Law Society of Saskatchewan releases new podcast on the future of law and technology

The Law Society of Saskatchewan has released a new podcast on the changing role of technology in the legal profession. The podcast looks at how technology is being treated in legal education, as well as what the society is doing to react to the changes/

The podcast features Tim Brown, Q.C. Executive Director of the Law Society of Saskatchewan; Martin Phillipson, Dean of the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan; and Craig Zawada, Q.C., Past President of the Law Society .

Listen to the podcast here. 

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ICLR Annual Conference: Day 1: 28 September

Day 1: 28 September

Sign up here… 

The conference will begin with a welcome session and keynote address, which have both been scheduled to encourage maximum global attendance, however as with all the sessions if the timing is too early/late, we will provide recordings that can be accessed at any time.

The keynote address will be given by Justice Rita B. Garman, Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois, Supreme Court of Illinois (CDT 08:00-08:30 / BST 14:00-14:30 / KST 23:00-23:30)

 – – –

Why We Do What We Do: Regulatory Theory and Practice – (CDT 08:30-09:45 / BST 14:30-15:45 / KST 23:30-00:45)


Session description:

This session will explore regulatory theory, different regulatory models that are used in different jurisdictions exploring both civil and common law regulation models, self-regulation and external regulation, the impact of legal regulation on society and on the regulated and what successful legal regulation can achieve.

Speakers:
Brian Doherty, Chief Executive Officer, Legal Service Regulatory Authority
Patricia Schwartz, Disciplinary Counsel, Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Supreme Court of Delaware
Nuala O’Loan, Baroness, House of Lords

 – – –

Equality, Diversity and inclusion – Are Regulators Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution? – (CDT 10:00-11:00 / BST 16:00-17:00 / KST 01:00-02:00 [29th])

Session description:

We are all aware that racism, unconscious bias and discrimination exist in our societies, and the consequences can be seen in our legal and justice systems. This raises important questions for us as regulators. Are we seeing the diversity challenges in wider society and the legal sector coming through in our processes? Why are some groups over-represented in our enforcement work? What’s our role in leading change in our sector and how can be sure our work is truly free from bias and discrimination?

Speakers:
Jane Malcolm, Executive Director, External and Corporate Affairs, Solicitors Regulation Authority
Elaine Cumming, Professional Responsibility Counsel, Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society
Logan Cornett, Director of Research, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System

– – –

Networking Session: International Cocktails with Legal Regulators – (CDT 15:00-16:00 / BST 21:00-22:00 / KST 06:00-07:00 [29th])

Session description:

Building on last year’s mixology event, this virtual networking session will highlight seasonal cocktails from around the world. Attendees will learn how to craft custom bright cocktails for Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer from different international regions and can expect to learn more about the history of each region’s featured spirit. A drink-specific ingredient list will be provided so that attendees who wish to do so can be prepared with the correct and preferred ingredients and can follow along step-by-step in this interactive mixology experience!

Speakers:
Tim Bertschy, Commission Vice – Chairperson, ARDC

– – –

Who Owns the Pathway? Broadening Access to the Legal Profession – (CDT 21:00-22:00 / BST 03:00-04:00 [29th] / KST 12:00-13:00 [29th])

Session description: 

This session will explore the range of measures being taken across various jurisdictions to ensure that the legal profession is diverse and reflective of the communities which it serves. The session will be delivered in two parts: the first will be a pre-recorded introduction with input from lawyers who have direct experience of overcoming barriers to the profession. Each will give a short introduction and outline their own experience of the barriers they faced and their experience of the “”pathway””. This will be followed by presentations from three jurisdictions who are making efforts to remove barriers and increase diversity in the profession. The focus on the session will be on exploring practical initiatives and their impact on lawyer diversity.

  • Exploring Barriers to the Profession
  • Initiatives to increase representation and diversity
  • “Levelling up”

Speakers:
Meera E. Deo, Director, Law School Survey of Student Engagement
Rob Marrs, Head of Education and Diversity, Law Society of Scotland
Zack DeMeola, Director of Legal Education and the Legal Profession, IAALS

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Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales publishes results of study into innovation in the legal sector

The Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales (SRA) has published the results of its independent study into innovation in the legal sector, commissioned in March.  The study was carried out on behalf of the SRA by a research team at the University of Oxford which included Professors Mari Sako and John Armour. The study has concluded that the majority of law firms were increasing their day-to-day use of technology, however, the development of bespoke legal technology was largely focused on advances which would benefit larger corporate clients.

The study has found that the pandemic has significantly impacted the uptake of technology, over the past 18 months it has been found that 87% of firms now use video conferencing services to meet clients and 66% store data in the cloud. 90% of firms also reported that changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic will be kept in place to some extent.

Technology usage was found to be highest among younger firms, firms operating through alternative business structures, and firms working in areas where technology was already established, like conveyancing. In terms of more advanced technology use- such as the use of automated documents, interactive websites and artificial intelligence – a little more than a third (37%) of law firms said they were currently using these.

The research found that the key stumbling blocks in innovation were related to funding and scalability. This meant that most bespoke development among technology companies was focused on products for the corporate sector. Firms working with individuals and small businesses stated that the most common barriers to accessing more advanced or targeted technological solutions were affordability, a lack of inhouse technology skills, or uncertainty over the business benefits from making an investment.

Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA, said: “Supporting innovation and the adoption of legal technology is a key priority, as we set out in our Corporate Strategy. It can help increase access to justice for the public and small businesses, as well as supporting firms to be more efficient, benefitting everyone and the economy as a whole. These findings drive home the fact that when we talk about technology, we need to remember just how broad that term is and how far there is for some to travel. This is not just about artificial intelligence, virtual reality or future technologies. Some of the innovation which has the greatest potential to improve access to justice at pace is already available. Such technology can be applied widely and be used on a day-to-day basis to benefit both consumers and law firms. The challenge now is how we all work together to enable this to happen.”

Mari Sako, Professor of Management Studies at the University of Oxford and project leader for this research, added: “Technology and innovation have already changed, and will continue to change, the face of the legal services sector. Our research provides robust evidence of this. But we also found that benefits from legal technology are not evenly distributed across different market segments. Regulators, including the SRA, collaborating with other stakeholders could play a major role, not only to lower regulatory uncertainty but also to level the playing field across the market segments.”

Based on their report, researchers identified three key areas to be addressed in order to allow for greater development of innovation and technology:

  • Greater support and co-ordination among government, regulators and tech developers – particularly in encouraging innovation and identifying funding paths
  • Increasing public and law firm trust in new approaches and technologies
  • Increasing the technological and innovation skills and knowledge bases within the legal sector.

Read more and access the research here.

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Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales publishes latest annual reports

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has published its suite of annual reports, which cover five core topics, these are: ‘Anti-money Laundering‘, ‘Authorisation‘, ‘Client Protection‘, ‘Education and Training‘ and ‘Upholding Professional Standards‘.

Key findings from the reports include:

  • There has been a year-on-year increase in the number of solicitors qualifying through apprenticeships, firms offering recognised training and solicitors gaining higher rights of audience qualifications.
  • There is further evidence of continued growth of the legal sector in Wales, with Welsh firms now accounting for a combined turnover of over £435 million, up from £370 million five years ago.
  • £10.4 million was paid out from the Compensation Fund, up £2.9 million from 2018/19, with the average payout around £28,000.
  • The Upholding Professional Standards Report, includes a review of the diversity characteristics of solicitors involved in the SRA’s enforcement processes. It has been found that as was the case in a similar analysis published last year, there is an over-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors, and men, in both concerns raised and investigated with the SRA when compared with the diversity of the profession as a whole. Based on this the SRA are currently commissioning independent research into the societal and structural factors that might be driving the over-representation in reports made to us, as well as reviewing our own decision making and working to improve diversity data collection.

Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board, has said: “Publishing this suite of annual reviews is an important part of our ongoing commitment to transparency and accountability. Last year was difficult for everyone, and I’m pleased that our reports show that both we and the profession rose to the challenge, adapting to new ways of working, maintaining performance and services and showing real resilience in the face of the pandemic. Since we published our last set of reviews, we have made significant progress in many areas, not least the work now well underway to understand and address what may lie behind the overrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors, and men, in our enforcement processes. Our 2019/20 Upholding Professional Standards report again confirms the historic trends we have already seen and reaffirms how important it is that we continue to push on with this work as quickly as possible.”

Access the full suite of reports here. 

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Legal Services Board of England and Wales research finds that consumers are missing out on legal expense insurance

A new report by the Legal Services Board of England and Wales (LSB) includes calls for legal expenses insurance to be promoted more widely to consumers, in order to widen access to legal advice amongst the public. The report estimates that 3.6 million people in England and Wales experience unmet legal need as part of a dispute annually, with few consumers able to pay for unexpected legal costs out of pocket. The report also found that millions of households have legal expenses policies as part of their insurance plans, however, they are rarely used, with only 7% of people who have not paid out of pocket for legal services having used insurance.

Previous research by the Financial Conduct Authority suggests that around 15 million adults may have legal expenses insurance. However, the LSB has found that as this is often included as a standard feature in home insurance contracts many people may not realise they have it. The LSB’s research found that participants had little understanding of these products and how their use.

The research also demonstrated that amongst the respondents, the majority assumed that legal expense insurance would be more expensive and restrictive than it is in reality, thereby limiting the role that this type of insurance is able to play in managing unexpected legal costs. Most respondents expected the cost to be at least double the average cost of £20-30 per year. Another misconception was that protection was only provided in relation to the product the insurance was sold alongside. In fact, while a product purchased with home insurance might cover housing issues, it will normally also cover legal issues related to employment, injury, contracts and other areas of law.

Steve Brooker, Head, Policy Development and Research at the Legal Services Board, said: “While legal expenses insurance is not a fix-all, it has the potential to protect more people from unexpected legal costs and is cheaper and covers more issues than many consumers think. People often need legal help when they are at their most vulnerable, for example when facing a housing or employment issue. Legal expenses insurance can provide consumers with the peace of mind that the cost of legal advice and representation will be covered. We see legal expenses insurance or similar products as one of the ways to enable more people to access legal services free at the point of need. The insurance industry has a role to play in better promoting legal expenses insurance to consumers and building stronger confidence in these products.”

Read more about the report here, or access the full report here.

 

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