A paper by Steve Brooker, head of policy development and research at the Legal Services Board, released on the 4th of June, has suggested that the LSB should review the regulatory structure, including the reserved legal activities within its current powers. The report comes in the wake of indications from the UK’s Ministry of Justice suggesting that legislative reform of legal services is currently not on the table. The report, therefore, suggested to the LSB that work should be done to investigate the current efficacy of the reserved legal activities, and how they could be changed within the boundaries of the current act. The report stresses that currently the reserved activities are based on historical need, and do not accurately reflect modern legal practice, leaving many providers unregulated, often wishing to be formally regulated, but unable to as they do not fall within the act.
Following the conclusion of the SRA and Nesta Legal Access Challenge, joint reports from both the SRA and Nesta have been released which highlight the lessons learned and the future next steps that will be taken to support the development of innovation. The SRA report focuses on how the lessons learned from the challenge are influencing regulation, and how this can be used to support the development and responsible adoption of legal tech. Whilst the Nesta report gives an overview of the challenge, looking at what innovations were supported, and what was learned about the wider innovation environment in the UK.
The Legal Access Challenge was a £500,000 Challenge Prize, split across early stage digital technology solutions that could directly help individuals and small medium enterprises (SMEs) better understand and resolve their legal problems. The Challenge was made possible by a grant to the SRA from the £10m Regulators’ Pioneer Fund launched by The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and administered by Innovate UK. The fund aimed to help UK regulators to develop innovation-enabling approaches to emerging technologies. The two final winners were announced in April. The winning teams were RCJ Advice for its collection of digital tools that enable survivors of domestic abuse to get legal support, and Mencap and Access Social Care for their virtual assistant which helps people to understand and exercise their social care rights.
The 18-month challenge has been seen as successful by both the SRA and Nesta, with both seeing potential for legal technology to improve legal access. The reports conclude that the SRA’s regulation is not a barrier to innovation, but that many find it difficult navigating overlapping regulatory regimes across, for example, legal services, financial services and information management. The Challenge also showed that innovation in public-facing legal technology is mainly coming from unregulated organisations.
The scale and diversity of interest in the Challenge – with 117 applications – resulted in the Regulators Pioneer Fund providing an additional £250,000 of funding.
Feedback on the Challenge from the eight finalists showed:
- seven had seen the development of their solution accelerated
- seven had been introduced to new and useful contacts, with five building new partnerships
- six had support that they otherwise would not have been able to access.
The SRA report sets out its next steps, including producing guidance to help innovators understand its rules, the requirements of overlapping regimes and how they can design products that enable regulated law firms to interact with them. It will also continue to work closely with other regulators and build networks. This includes being part of recently announced Lawtech Sandbox developed by Tech Nation.
Anna Bradley, SRA Chair and Chair of the Challenge judging panel said:
“Too many individuals and small businesses struggle to access expert help when they need it. This can be the difference between someone losing their job, home or family; or a business succeeding or failing.”
I believe tech will be a game-changer for access to legal support. Covid-19 has brought into even sharper focus the importance of digital solutions. However, it’s clear that the adoption of technology has been slow when it comes to public facing legal services.
The Challenge showed the range of ideas out there, and the potential for it to help people in vulnerable situations. I was pleased that our own regulation is not seen as a barrier to the development of tech in the legal sector but we want to do more to support innovators to navigate what can be complex and overlapping regulation.”
The highly anticipated denouement of the Independent Review of Legal Services, which was first launched in October 2018, was published on the 11th June. The 340-page report which has been informed by a number of working papers, as well as an interim report, which has been fed into by a variety of actors in the legal sector is entitled Reforming legal services: Regulation beyond the echo chambers.
Professor Mayson has suggested in the report that all providers of legal services, should be registered and regulated by a single regulator, whether they are legally qualified or not. He suggested that regulation should move from the regulation of lawyers to the regulation of legal services, with different levels of regulation being applied depending on the public risk inherent in the work. By extension, this would mean that traditional legal qualifications would no longer be the sole entry point into the profession.
The report has been submitted to the Lord Chancellor, however, the Ministry of Justice in the UK has suggested that they currently do not plan to review the Legal Services Act 2007. Professor Mayson has therefore suggested shorter-term measures that can be introduced, as he feels that action must come sooner rather than later.
Professor Mayson suggested that especially as demand has moved online, the public are increasingly unaware of their rights in relation to regulated professionals, whilst lawyers are operating under a system where only a small percentage of their work is covered under the regulatory regimes they are supposed to work under. “The conclusion of this review is that the regulatory framework should better reflect the legitimate needs and expectations of the more than 90% of the population for whom it is not currently designed,” he wrote. The new framework would also allow for new provides such as lawtech providers to act within a regulated sector.
Professor Mayson also described the current arrangement of 10 front-line regulators plus an oversight regulator as “cumbersome”, and recommended replacing it with a single, independent regulator – the Legal Services Regulation Authority (LSRA). “The requirement for flexibility, consistency, coherence and coordination across regulation within the legal services sector necessarily leads to a single regulator,” the report said.
The response from regulators has been mixed with CILEx (read the CILEx response) and the Association of Costs Lawyers (read the Association of Costs Lawyers response) backing professor Mayson’s report, and the LSB (read the LSB response) saying that they will carefully consider his recommendations in relation to their ongoing work in reforming legal regulation. Whilst the Law Society (read the Law Society response) has suggested that given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, now is not the time to discuss reforms.
Reforms in legal education are taking place in almost all countries. Each system has its own reasons for improving the quality of legal education, though the employment of young lawyers after graduation proves a common problem.
The Concept for the Development of Legal Education in the Republic of Belarus through to 2025, adopted by the Ministry of Education in 2017, partly addresses the problems faced by the contemporary Belarusian legal community. These problems include a lack of practice-oriented courses for students and the need to improve the professional training of teachers.
The main problems facing the modern Belarusian legal education appear to include the excessive teaching load of academics, the lack of practical skills development, bureaucratic mechanisms for attracting foreign funding, insufficient funding for training teachers abroad, weak foreign language skills, and the lack of new education and academic technologies, including access to online databases and virtual learning environments.
Belarus ranks 52nd in the Human Development Index of 188 countries in the UN Development Program, which is one of the highest positions among the countries of eastern Europe. This indicates that Belarus is competitive in the field of education generally. In order to put in place legal education reforms, a wide range of professionals should be involved, as well as more active cooperation with non-governmental educational institutions and universities abroad. This will allow the sharing of best practices in the area of legal education.
Kryvoi, Yarik and Maroz, Raman, Reform of Legal Education in Belarus and the United Kingdom (March 19, 2018). Yarik Kryvoi, Raman Maroz, Reform of legal education in Belarus and the United Kingdom (Ostrogorski Centre, 2018).
The Bar Standards Board has announced on the 12th May 2020, that the Bar Professional Training Course and Bar Transfer Test assessments, that were delayed from April to August, will be carried out online with the assistance of Pearson’s OnVUE secure global online proctoring solution, which will allow for remote invigilation. Allowing the exams to take place within this timeframe will then allow for students with pupillage offers to take these up in the Autumn, rather than causing further delays.
The BSB has said that the “OnVUE system uses a combination of artificial intelligence and live monitoring to ensure the exam is robustly guarded, deploying sophisticated security features such as face-matching technology, ID verification, session monitoring, browser lockdown and recordings.” However, some criticism has come about suggesting that the system may prejudice students with young children, as the system automatically ends the test if another person is detected in the presence of the examinee.
BSB director-general Mark Neale said: “Since the current health emergency began… students and transferring qualified lawyers have had to face considerable uncertainty, which we very much regret, and I am delighted that we can now deliver centralised assessments remotely in August with Pearson VUE’s state-of-the-art online proctoring system.”
For more information see the full article on the BSB site.
In its latest episode of the ‘Talking Tech’ podcast, the LSB interviews Dr Adam Wyner, Associate Professor of Law and Computer Science at Swansea University. The podcast focuses on how education and regulation might change to ensure legal professionals are better equipped to deal with and meet the challenges posed by a new tech-focused environment, as well as how these individuals can start to drive technological innovation.
The deadline for the LSB’s consultation on ongoing competence has been extended to the 26th June.
The call has been extended due to the ongoing pressure on respondents, and the need to divert resources, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The LSB has said: “We are asking respondents to consider four themes:
- Defining competence and competence assurance
- Consumer expectations of competence
- Competence assurance in the legal services sector
- Competence assurance in other sectors
We want to hear from people and organisations both within and beyond the legal services sector with any relevant information on existing competence assurance practices and whether these practices protect the public and promote consumer interests. The insights will help guide our thinking on whether a different approach is needed.”
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, has said in a House of Lords constitution committee that there would be no going back to pre-COVID-19 use of technology in courts. He also added that if the crisis goes on it may be worth considering lowering the number of jurors to 7.
In his answer to a question from Lord Pannick as to whether the way lawyers worked would fundamentally change, Lord Burnett said he suspected that it would. He also suggested that Professor Richard Susskind was right to suggest that the crisis represented a turning point in legal practice.
Susskind himself has recently worked with the Society for Computers and Law (SCL), the UK LawTech Delivery Panel, and Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service to launch Remote Courts Worldwide – which has suggested that over 40 countries worldwide are looking at the prospect of remote courts.
The Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales have agreed to set up the SRA as a distinct legal company within the Law Society Group. The aim is to deliver clearer financial reporting, without changing the fundamental relationship.
In a joint statement Law Society President, Simon Davies and SRA Chair, Anna Bradley said:
“We have for some time been discussing our future relationship and have agreed that, given the need to comply by June with new internal governance regulations from the Legal Services Board, now is the time to establish the Solicitors Regulation Authority as a distinct legal entity within the Law Society Group. This will mean that both organisations can focus on our respective roles while working together wherever appropriate.
We consider that the new arrangement will not only be more effective but create more transparency for the profession and the public about our roles and responsibilities.”
A consumer impact report launched by the Legal Services Consumer Panel in March of this year has highlighted ongoing concerns about indicators of service quality provided by lawyers. The report highlights that 4 years after the publication of a CMA report that examined the difficulty for consumers in gauging the quality of legal services before purchasing, issues still remain.
The report highlights that the scarcity of quality indicators that lawyers and firms are required to publish negates much of the progress that has been made on price transparency. The report calls on regulators to act to build a common framework of quality indicators in order to improve consumer awareness.
Sarah Chambers, the chair of the panel said: “The sector must continue to focus on transparency as a regulatory tool that has the power to empower consumers and enhance effective choice and competition. I am still concerned that very little progress has been made towards establishing quality indicators, considering that we are now in the fourth year since the CMA identified a need.”