Legal Services Board of England and Wales releases diversity dashboard for England and Wales profession

The Legal Services Board of England and Wales (LSB), which acts as the oversight regulator for professional frontline regulators in England and Wales has released a dashboard of diversity statistics collected from each of the frontline regulators it oversees, alongside the publication of an independent report into regulator diversity. The report was produced by the Bridge Group, an independent consultancy focused on diversity and inclusion, and is focused on evaluating the success of regulatory interventions and the success of evaluative indicators used by regulators following diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Findings from the report include:

  • Legal regulators should use the data they collect about the professionals they regulate to inform and evaluate their diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  • Similar challenges face regulators in other sectors, indicating that the legal services sector is no different to other professional sectors in the slow pace of change in improving diversity.
  • To improve the limited evaluation of initiatives the report recommends the use of the theory of change model, or similar, for a more systematic approach.

Based on the findings of the report the LSB has urged legal regulators to do more to understand what is and is not working in terms of diversity initiatives, in order to encourage greater diversity and inclusion in the sector, as well as focusing on what is making a meaningful difference for professionals and consumers.

The diversity dashboard has been produced to facilitate better information sharing and improve transparency between the regulators. It brings together the latest diversity data collected by the regulators on the people they regulate.  It is now easier to compare different parts of the regulated sector. Data includes the proportion of; women employed, age, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and attendance at a fee-paying school. The dashboard will be expanded in the coming months to include information on how the diversity of the professions differ at entry and at senior levels over time.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Board, has said: “The LSB and the legal regulators share the statutory objective of encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal services sector. However, despite the positive intentions over the last few years, there has been little progress on improving diversity of our sector. On the whole, regulators have been successful at collecting diversity data, however, data is not an end in itself. Understanding what initiatives have the greatest impact is essential if we are to see a radical change in the diversity of the legal profession. Evaluation must be a core part of deciding which regulatory interventions to make. The Independent Bridge Group report that we commissioned highlights that there has been little collaboration on diversity and inclusion. We want to help change that and a key part of our approach will be to work with regulators to encourage information sharing and cohesion to address these sector-wide issues. It is clear that the challenges we face are so complex and far-reaching that tackling them requires a concerted effort. By collaborating with others across the sector, we will support a profession that reflects the society it serves and that meets consumers’ differing needs.”

Read the full report here, or view the diversity dashboard here.

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Bar Standards Board publishes independent review of 2020 qualifying exams

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has published the results of an independent review of the August 2020 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) exams, the exams used by the Board as part of the qualification process for barristers. The review was commissioned by the BSB in November 2020 and was conducted by Professor Rebecca Huxley-Binns, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) of the University of Hull and Dr Sarabajaya Kumar, an interdisciplinary social scientist based at University College London, who is also an equalities consultant and a disability activist.

The Review found that candidates experienced a number of different challenges, including difficulty in changing to computer-based assessments and challenges related to online proctoring,  when sitting the examination remotely in August 2020, due to a variety of different factors. Based on these the review makes a number of recommendations, which have been collated by the BSB into an examination action plan, designed to ensure that changes are actioned.  The Action Plan is grouped into five main themes and includes measures to:

  • improve the BSB’s communication and engagement with students and training providers;
  • make the centralised assessments more accessible and inclusive, particularly when candidates require reasonable adjustments;
  • make the BSB’s approach to policy and process development in this area more inclusive by improving the regulator’s engagement with key stakeholders;
  • introduce a critical incidents policy and improve data protection and project management;
  • clarify the roles and responsibilities of the BSB and training providers in the management of the centralised.

Responding to the Review, the Chair of the BSB, Baroness Tessa Blackstone, said

“First and foremost, I should like to apologise again to all those students who faced difficulties completing their exams last August. The BSB had to move from pen and paper based assessments delivered by training providers to arrange computer based assessments in a very short period of time in the middle of a global pandemic. Ordinarily, such a change would have taken at least 12 months to plan and to pilot. I am pleased that the report finds that the BSB was right to seek to offer computer based assessments and right to contract with Pearson VUE to deliver the exams, including to run remote proctoring for the students sitting the exams online and to book testing centre spaces for students unable to take the exams remotely. Around 75% of BPTC exams were completed but far too many students faced difficulties which should never have occurred. The BSB’s staff worked very hard to implement the new arrangements for the exams but we very much regret that many students had a difficult experience both in booking and sitting the exams. The Board has welcomed the Review by Professor Huxley-Binns and Dr Kumar. It has approved the Executive’s proposed Action Plan and will ensure that the Review’s recommendations are put into effect. The Board has discussed the Action Plan with Professor Huxley-Binns and Dr Kumar and they fully endorse the Plan as meeting the recommendations in their Review. I am pleased that the Review found no failure of governance. The Board is determined to ensure that the BSB learns the lessons for the future. Those lessons will be of great help to the BSB and to future students. We are very grateful to all those who have contributed to this Review and I should like once again to repeat my apology to those who had difficulties last August.”

Read the BSB’s comments here, or read the full review here.

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Event: Next steps for legal education and training in England and Wales

June; 29, 2021

Online

This conference will assess the future of legal education and training in England and Wales, as well as ongoing competence in the profession.

The seminar takes place at a time of significant changes in the pathways to qualification for solicitors and barristers, with the new SQE system and new bar training courses.

Delegates will assess progress and unresolved issues since their introduction, and look ahead to what the new courses mean for law as an attractive and accessible profession, and their prospects for supporting the development of new skills needed for the future.

We are pleased to be able to include a keynote session with Julie Brannan, Director, Education and Training, Solicitors Regulation Authority; and Chris Nichols, Director of Policy and Regulation, Legal Services Board; as well as contributions from the Bar Standards Board; BARBRI International; the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx); City Law School; the Criminal Bar Association; the Legal Services Consumer Panel; Mishcon de Reya and Free School Meals Club; MOSAIC Collective; Queen Mary University of London; Reed Smith; and the University of Law.

Overall, areas for discussion include:

the new qualification route for solicitors and new barrister training courses
expanding routes to professional engagement and supporting progression
ongoing competence in the legal profession

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Event: Legalex

July; 7-8, 2021

London

We design every aspect of our LegalEx to help you run, grow and advance your legal practice by staying up to date with the ever-changing legal landscape. Law is constantly evolving, so we’re helping you evolve with it.

Every supplier and seminar at LegalEx is chosen to inspire and educate you in regulation and skills, legal tech, client retention, business development and diversity on the stage and show floor.

There are plenty of opportunities to learn, network and reconnect with legal experts and gain continuing competency for free.

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Legal Services Board calls for consumers to be put at the heart of regulation

On the 29th of March the Legal Services Board (LSB) launched a consumer-focused strategy for legal services in England and Wales, which included a call for all regulators in England and Wales to collaborate to reshape legal services to better meet society’s needs. It called for action from all regulators from its position as the oversight regulator, having been formed by the Legal Services Act 2007.

The ten-year strategy reflects that there are a number of challenges facing the legal services sector, and that many of these require a coordinated effort by different people and organisations in the sector, pursuing a common agenda. The strategy has identified nine challenges within the sector. These include closing gaps in consumer protection, empowering consumer choice and achieving fairer outcomes.

The LSB has also identified other priorities in the strategy, such as a statutory review of the reserved legal activities, a review of professional indemnity insurance, and work on simple legal products, but it has deferred these until resources permit.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said:

“While there have been many achievements over the last ten years of independent regulation, there continue to be significant levels unmet legal need. We must seize this moment to drive forward a strategy that promotes the public interest, supports competition and growth, and encourages diversity and inclusion. The LSB cannot do this alone – everyone in the sector must work together to pursue our shared interests. We are greatly encouraged by the commitment to collaboration that characterised so many responses to our consultation. Only by working together can the sector emerge strongly from the Covid-19 pandemic and successfully tackle the challenges it faces.If we all work together, we will improve diversity, and the sector will look more like the society it serves. The system will better support innovation and be equipped to respond to the changing market. Consumers will be able to shop around and reward firms that offer high-quality, transparent, and affordable services. The strategy is necessarily ambitious, and if we all play our part, we can achieve our vision. Through collaboration, we will reshape services to create a strong and resilient sector that better meets society’s needs.”

Read the full strategy here, or more from the LSB here.

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Legal Services Board of England and Wales releases new report on how regulation can foster innovation

On the 20th of April, the Legal Services Board (LSB) released a report outlining what legal services can do to support the safe development of technology and innovation, whilst also acting in the public interest. The report outlines steps regulators can take to create an environment that ‘de-risks’ innovation and reduces uncertainty for tech providers and consumers.

In the report, the LSB outlines the role that regulation plays in removing barriers to innovation, both by increasing consumer trust and managing risks. This would in turn allow technology to open the legal services market to underserved elements of society, such as citizens and small business. Addressing unmet legal need and access to justice issues.

The LSB also notes that technology carries risks that need to be considered and managed. These include ensuring that those with low digital capability and digital literacy are not excluded from accessing essential services. The ethical and regulatory challenges of advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence must also be considered while ensuring they are not stifled.

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board, has said: “Technology has the potential to improve access to legal services. It can enable citizens to get advice and support in a way, and at a time, that suits them. It can also help legal professionals carry out their work in new ways that make them more competitive, reduce costs and support growth. Covid-19 has accelerated the pace and scale of technological change, with many providers adapting and using technology to offer their services in new ways. We have started to see what is possible, but there is a long way to go to unlock the full potential. Regulation can help build on the momentum that Covid-19 has created and harness technology to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society. Regulation can also help secure consumer confidence and build trust in new technology. Legal services regulators can take encouragement in opening up their regulatory arrangements to support new ways of delivering services for the benefit of consumers. As the oversight regulator for legal services, we have an important role in fostering innovation. From considering technology as part of our regulatory performance framework to exploring a statutory statement that can underpin proactive regulatory arrangements, we can create, and maintain, a regulatory environment that unlocks the role of technology and innovation in increasing access.”

Read the full report and recommendations here. 

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New research project on innovation and technology in England and Wales commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

The Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales (SRA) has commissioned a piece of independent research into the use of technology and innovation in the legal sector, and how this may develop in the future. The research is being carried out by a research team at the University of Oxford including Professors Mari Sako and John Armour.

All 10,200 law firms regulated by the SRA in England and Wales are being asked to complete a survey around their use of legal technology, as well what the impact of COVID-19 has been on their use of technology.

As well as surveying firms, the university is also conducting wider research with a range of industry stakeholders from both within and beyond the legal profession, with a focus on how innovation and technology can improve access to services within the public.

The aim of the report is to improve understanding of:

  • current use of innovation and technology across the sector
  • likely areas of future development
  • how to best support future innovations, including by potentially removing regulatory barriers

Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board, said: “We are committed to supporting the use of innovation and legal technology that helps to meet the needs of the public, business community, law firms and the economy. Commissioning this research from the University of Oxford is an important step as we work to bring together the views of a wide range of stakeholders on what is happening in our sector at the moment, and what the future might hold. New ways of doing business and the increasing use of legal technology will affect everyone working in the legal sector, so we want to hear from as many people as possible. I encourage you all to take this opportunity to get their views heard.”

Further information about the report, including how non-law firm stakeholders can be involved is available here. 

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Event: Inclusion and Diversity at the Bar

May 19, 2021

Online

In conjunction with the Employed Barristers’ Committee of the Bar Council, BACFI has invited our Director General Mark Neale to speak about his involvement with the our Reverse Mentoring Scheme as a mentee along with student Agatha Rockson who is a mentor, in the hope that more students and barristers will be encouraged to take part in this initiative.

Srishti Suresh from Bridging the Bar will be speaking about how the charity supports students from non-traditional and underrepresented backgrounds to access the Bar and how those at the Employed Bar can help with the programmes and initiatives they are running.

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“Trusted to the ends of the earth?” An analysis of solicitors’ disciplinary processes in England and Wales from 1994 to 2015

A newly released study by Boon and Whyte has collected data on lawyer’s discipline from across different eras of regulation in England and Wales. The data collected allows for a comparison of lawyer discipline before and after the introduction of the Legal Services Act 2007. The act led to the creation of separate regulatory and representative bodies for each of the legal professions in England and Wales.

The paper raises many interesting questions, including why disciplinary case brought by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (formed as part of the creation of the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority), have remained steady, despite an increase in the number of Solicitors joining the profession. The report also found that the number of disciplinary cases brought against Solicitors is fairly regular across all levels of the profession.

Read the full report here, or read legal academic, Professor Richard Moorehead’s comments here.

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Simple Ways to Increase Diversity at the English Bar

Abstract

This note sets out simple ways to increase diversity at the English Bar, using the existing setup of the English Bar, but tweaking some small aspects, so without introducing any major structural changes. What this in turn means is that these ways should be easy to implement, given the collective will.

The starting point of this analysis is considering the 2 paths to becoming a practitioner at the English Bar. The primary path involves completion of an approved pupillage (i.e. formal legal apprenticeship) at a set of barristers’ chambers. The secondary path involves transfer across from another approved profession, such as the Solicitors or Legal Executives, plus completion of approved experience and required qualifying exams.

The number of students qualifying into the English Bar each year through the primary pupillage route is less than 600. (This number is currently restricted both through the limited availability of sufficiently well-funded pupillages, and by optimal Bar profession size, ceteris paribus). The total number of practicing English Bar barristers is more than 16,000. So, the number of new barristers per practicing barrister per year is less than 1 per 30 working barristers, implying an approximate, steady-state, average career length per practicing barrister of c.25+ years.

Suppose, for simplicity, that we assume as a standardized model that all barristers work in average size sets of 30 barristers (in reality there is a long tail, power law distribution so most sets are much smaller down to standalone practitioners) and each model set takes one pupil per year for a combined 1st + 2nd 6 pupillage, leading to tenancy. Suppose also that we are considering a diversity subset, say an ethnic group, that makes up 10% of all pupillage candidates. Then one would expect, absent any bias or other factors, each model set to appoint one of the diversity pupils every 10 years on average, and the average waiting time for one diverse pupil to get pupillage at that model set, to be 5 years. So, it would need many years of observations to be able to conclude statistically, even just on the balance of probabilities test, that any individual chambers viewed in isolation was operating a biased (including implicitly or inadvertently biased) policy, if it in fact never, ever, appointed any diversity pupillage candidates. Furthermore, if all sets fell into this category then they could all end up operating in a systematically biased way, without ever actively coordinating, or being held individually accountable for this.

The recommended solution in this example is to pool chambers together up to a sufficiently larger combined scale, say into 20 chambers in a pool. (This essentially applies and exploits aspects of the so-called “law of large numbers”). Each pool would thus be chosen so that it was expected to appoint 2 of the diversity candidates to pupillage per year on average. Normal variation would be 1-3 per year, but zero per pool per year would need to be remedied immediately by an error-correction policy of say appointment of a good diversity candidate from a reserved list, and/or imposition of a substantial fine on that pool.

How the chambers in each pool managed the allocation of the appointments of the diversity pupil candidates between their constituent sets could vary e.g., by new policies, agreement, rota, lottery, etc, as long as the method chosen was within the law. The key would then be to mandate and monitor at the right granular scale that this pool approach was being applied, and getting the desired results.

Under the second method, the perceived diversity shortfall at the Bar could be offset by an increased incentive, perhaps using reduced fees, discounts and scholarships, and increased experience recognition for diversity candidates to cross over more easily from other professions to the Bar. There are of course many dimensions of diversity that could be quickly tackled in this way including across ethnicity, gender and age.

Macey-Dare, Rupert, Simple Ways to Increase Diversity at the English Bar (March 4, 2021).

Read the full article on SSRN.

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