Accountancy Body to Hand Designated Legal Regulatory Powers to CILEx

The Association of Chartered Accountants (ACCA) in England and Wales is to withdraw from legal services regulation in a UK first. The legal activities that are exercised by its members will now be regulated in a new partnership by CILEx Regulation (CRL), the regulatory body for Chartered Legal Executives. Under the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA), probate was listed as a reserved legal activity, meaning that regulators who administered the right to provide probate services could be approved as legal service regulators, by the overarching regulator, the Legal Service Board.

The ACCA was approved to regulate probate in 2009, but only began actively regulating in 2018. Under the LSA, there has always been the option for any of the regulatory bodies to regulate multiple different professions, however, the transfer to regulation by CRL, which will take place over the coming months, marks the first time this will have happened in practice. This transfer will allow the 52 ACCA accredited firms to continue to practice, however, it will not affect the 300 firms regulated by the ICAEW.

The move came in the light of new governance rules that have been put in place by the LSB, as well as the fact that the ACCA was not licensed to regulate alternative business structures, and obtaining the licence would ultimately prove too costly. They, therefore, stated that “Against that backdrop and that the provision of legal services sits as an adjunct to general practice, we believe partnering with another legal services regulator provides a pragmatic and cost-effective way to support practitioners to diversify their service offerings”.

Carilyn Burman, chief executive of CILEx Regulation, said she was confident that it could offer “a number of benefits, including an opportunity for ACCA probate practitioners to join forces with other legal and non-legal professionals as ABSs, which will further encourage competition and diversity within the legal services market”.

Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the LSB, has said: “Enhancing regulatory independence has been a long-term strategic priority for the LSB and I am pleased the regulators are now able to confirm they have the appropriate separations in place between regulatory and representative functions. This is a significant achievement and means consumers can have increased certainty that decisions made by regulators are independent.”

Read more about the decision or see more about the regulatory structure in England and Wales

 

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The Bar Standards Board Race Equality Taskforce publishes case studies

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) Race Equality Taskforce has published two case studies to promote racial diversity and inclusion at the Bar. This marks the launch of a series of case studies that will focus on encouraging barristers’ chambers to adopt equality and diversity best practice from across the sector in order to foster a more inclusive culture in the profession.  The series of case studies are being developed by the BSB’s Race Equality Taskforce, a group of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and White barristers, which advises the BSB on the development of strategy, policy and activity to improve race equality in the profession.

Find out more

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SRA: Solicitors Qualifying Examination updates

The SRA have confirmed that the candidate fee for the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will be £3,980. The costs are in line with £3,000-£4,500 figure set out in the SRA’s original 2018 fee range estimates. The fees do not include training costs, which will vary depending on a candidate’s choices.   They also confirmed that they would give greater flexibility for universities and students around transition to the new assessment, in the light of Covid-19.  Read more…

An independent report on the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) has concluded that the assessment design is fair and overall the SQE could help address diversity issues in the legal profession.  In its report, it recognises that a major problem with the “current, fragmented system” is a lack of dependable, comparable data. Standardised data from the SQE could help the sector better understand diversity issues and inform potential solutions. This data could also help both employers and aspiring solicitors make choices.

Read the full press release.

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LSB tells regulators to develop better understanding of diversity data

In her recent blog, the Chair of the Legal Services Board, said that the regulatory bodies in England and Wales should do more to get a grasp on diversity data. The blog was published after the latest Board meeting and notes that in January the Board agreed with regulators to assess their performance on gathering diversity data about their regulated community. The blog notes that the results were disappointing with only three of the regulatory bodies (SRA, BSB and ICAEW) able to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the composition of their regulated community, and no regulators being able to demonstrate that they currently have a comprehensive understanding of whether their disciplinary/enforcement procedures disproportionately impact certain groups.

The Board has said that there are shortcomings in the collection of diversity data across the sector and there is also no consensus on what types of interventions have been successful to meaningfully improve diversity across all the protected characteristics and is calling for better data collection across all regulators.

Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the board has said the LSB will help regulatory bodies collect and evaluate the right data to show which interventions have worked. Her organisation will also review the performance framework next year to best measure how regulators are faring.

Read the full blog.

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Legal Services Consumer Panel shows that consumers are shopping blind

The Legal Services Consumer Panel has published a report on consumer decision making. The research shows that consumers indicators such as length of practice and website design when making their decisions.

The Panel has called for independent information to be provided to consumers, with information including transparent costs and previous client reviews and testimonials.

Sarah Chambers, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said:

“There has been a patent lack of strategic direction and a sluggish pace in addressing consumers’ need for reliable, comparable quality indicators, almost four years after the Competition and Markets Authority’s findings that lack of information on price and quality hampered competition.

Legal service regulators must now respond by doing two things. Firstly, they must work towards a clear strategic goal of establishing a sector-wide framework for quality indicators. This framework should be rooted in an articulation of what good looks like for consumers. Secondly, regulators must accelerate their pace in this area. The CMA is scheduled to reassess the sector at the end of the year. If they find that little to no progress has been made on this issue, this could create a reputational risk for regulators as it might suggest that consumers are not at the heart of regulation. And of course, consumers will continue to be left without the basic information they need to choose a lawyer.”

Read the full LSCP report

Recently the LSCP has also joined calls for ongoing competence assessments of legal professionals, writing to the LSB to advocate for the move.

Read the LSCP’s letter. 

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LSB plans to review regulatory structure

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.

Read the full LSB paper (PDF).

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SRA legal access challenge, reports and next steps

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.”

See the SRA’s full report on the challenge.

See Nesta’s full report on the challenge. 

 

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Mayson Report: Final report published

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.

Download a full copy of the report (PDF).

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.

Also see the article at Legal Futures for a further breakdown of the regulatory responses.

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Reform of Legal Education in Belarus and the United Kingdom

Abstract

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.

Citation
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).

Available from the SSRN site.

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BSB to use AI to carry out online testing

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.

 

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