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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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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Legal Services Board of England and Wales research shows public support for ongoing competence checks

Newly commissioned research by the Legal Service Board of England and Wales (LSB) as part of their wider work on ongoing competence, has demonstrated that the public places high importance on lawyers having up to date knowledge and skills, and the right attributes to provide high-quality services. The report also showed that there was a gap between public expectation and the current regulatory requirements around ongoing competence.

The survey was made up of 1,005 respondents in England and Wales and found that:

  • 55% of respondents assumed that lawyers face regular skills checks, in a similar manner to doctors, pilots or teachers
  • 95% thought that lawyers should have to demonstrate that they remain competent throughout their careers
  • 87% thought that regulators should do more to reduce the risk of lack of competence
  • 88% thought there should be more consistency in competence requirements across the profession, as there are for other regulated professions

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

“This research shows that there is a gap between what the public expect when it comes to lawyers’ competence and what checks are currently in place. We will be developing our thinking on what more needs to be done in this area to build public confidence, and engaging widely on our emerging thoughts.”

Read more about the research here. 

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Bar Standards Board of England and Wales publishes new statistics on the outcomes of complaints about barristers

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has published a new statistical analysis examining the outcomes of complaints made about barristers in England and Wales between January 2015 and October 2019. The research was particularly focused on investigating the relationship between the outcomes of, and the likelihood of a complaint being made, and specific characteristics of barristers, particularly gender and ethnicity.

Within the analysis, the BSB has divided the complaints into two categories “internal complaints” (complaints raised by the BSB based on information received from sources, such as self-reports of potential professional misconduct; referrals from other departments of the BSB; referrals from other regulators; judicial criticisms; and public/media coverage of barristers’ behaviour) and “external complaints” (complaints raised by members of the public, legal professionals or other external sources, who wished to make a formal complaint about a barrister).

Key findings from the analysis include:

  • Male barristers who were the subject of a complaint were around 2.1 times more likely to have their case referred for disciplinary action compared with female barristers ;
  • Male barristers were around 1.3 times more likely than female barristers to be subject to an “internal complaint”;
  • Compared to White barristers, barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds were found to be around 1.7 times more likely to be subject to an “internal complaint” compared with White barristers;

Commenting on the findings, BSB Director of Legal and Enforcement, Sara Jagger, said:

“This report illustrates our commitment to transparency in the way in which we deal with reports about barristers’ conduct. Our decision making is regularly reviewed to ensure that it is of a high quality and free from bias and it is essential that we keep monitoring these issues. Our decision-making processes have changed significantly since the period covered by this report and later this year, we will be reviewing the impact of those changes on the outcomes for barristers with different diversity characteristics.”

Read more and access the report on the BSB’s website. 

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Australia, Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales Bar publish new diversity and admissions data

New reports on admissions and diversity in the legal profession have been released by the Australian Conference of Law Societies, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority of Ireland (LSRA), the Law Society of Scotland and the Bar Standards Board of England and Wales.

Australia

The 2020 National Profile of Solicitors in Australia, produced on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies, an organisation that represents the different law societies from across the Australian territories, show that there are now 83,643 solicitors practising in Australia, an increase of 26,066 solicitors since 2011, representing a 45% increase. The report also shows that women now make up 53% of solicitors across the country, up from 46% in 2011.

The report has also found that there has been a 59% increase in practice in those aged 65 or older, with the average age being 42 years old, and that in  2020, 632 solicitors identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander, representing 0.8% of all solicitors in Australia. Since 2014, this trend has remained relatively stable. The report also shows that the majority of solicitors operate in private practice, however corporate legal has been the most rapidly growing area.

Access the Australian report here. 

Ireland 

On the 30th of June, the LSRA published its second annual admissions report entitled ‘Pathways to the Professions 2020: Annual Report on Admission Policies of the Legal Professions’.

The key findings of the report include:

  • 906 solicitors were admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 2020, a 62% decrease on 2019
  • The “Brexit-effect” whereby UK qualified lawyers qualify into Ireland has begun to subside. The number of England and Wales-qualified solicitors entering the Roll, has dropped to 443 compared to 1,838 in 2019 (this may partly be due to saturation and partly due to changes to the admission policy requiring England and Wales qualified solicitors to demonstrate an intention to practice in Ireland)
  • A total of 11,854 solicitors held Irish practising certificates on 31 December 2020, a decrease of 105 from 2019
  • A total of 167 barristers were called to the Bar of Ireland in 2020, this is down 14% from 190 in 2019.
  • Of the 167 barristers admitted to practise in the year, 116 were graduates of the King’s Inns Barrister-at-Law degree course. The total also includes 47 barristers admitted having obtained their professional qualifications in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.

Access the LSRA’s report here. 

Scotland

Diversity data collected as part of the annual Practising Certificate (PC) renewal process has been published by the Law Society of Scotland. Diversity questions were included for the first time in the 2020/21 PC renewal process, with around 80% of respondents providing a response to diversity questions. Respondents were asked about their ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and social background, including the type of school they mainly attended and what their parents’ occupation was.

Key findings include:

  • The Scottish legal profession is getting more ethnically diverse, although more slowly than the wider population. Just over 88% of the profession is white, with at least 3.38% of the profession coming from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.
  • Almost 7% of solicitors aged under 30 come from a BAME background.
  • Around two-thirds of newly admitted members were female.
  • 3.2% of the profession is LGBTQ+.
  • 4.8% of the profession has a disability, such as blindness, deafness or a mobility impairment.

Access the Law Society of  Scotland’s report here. 

Barristers in England and Wales

The BSB has published the seventh and final annual edition of its statistical information relating to student performance on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The report uses data from students from the 2019-2020 academic year, as well as the preceding two academic years. The report includes information on the demographics and results of those who enrolled on the BPTC, as well as the success rates of those seeking a pupillage after the course.

Key findings include:

  • 18% fewer of the students who enrolled in 2019-20 completed the course compared to the year before and the of the UK  and EU graduates in the same period 10% began a pupillage in 2020-21 compared to 23% in the 2018-19 cohort, reflecting a 35% fall in pupillage places. This drop may be partially related to COVID-19 as well as Brexit.
  • 1,685 students enrolled on the BPTC in 2019-20, a decrease of 68 students compared to 2018-19.
  • 46% of students 46% who enrolled on the BPTC in 2019-20 were overseas (non-UK/EU) domiciled,
  • Female BPTC students increased from 52.3% in 2011-12 to 57.8% in 2019-20
  • of the 95% who provided information on their ethnicity, the percentage of UK/EU domiciled students from a minority ethnic group was 35% in 2019-20. This was down by around five percentage points compared to 2018-19,  and was at the lowest level since 2015-16;

As well as this the report found that  39.5% of UK/EU students who enrolled on the course from 2015 to 2019 had started a pupillage by March 2021 of these 55% were female, and when controlling for academic and BPTC results found that those from a white background were more likely to commence a pupillage, with 41% of white students starting a pupillage compared with 23% of those from a minority background.

Read the BSB’s full report here. 

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Event: Regulatory Futures 2021: trust and change in uncertain times

Thursday 9 September 2021

London, UK, 30 Euston Square

Join us in London for our face-to-face conference exploring the future of regulation. Offering insights from different sectors – from utilities to education, financial to legal services – this free event is for anyone interested in discussing how we regulate to meet the future needs of society.

Who is speaking?

Chair

  • Rageh Omaar, Broadcaster and Journalist

Keynote

  • Anna Bradley, SRA Chair

Confirmed speakers include

  • Neil Baytone, Head of Partnerships, TrustPilot
  • Matthew Gill, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Government
  • Stefan Hunt, Chief Data and Digital Officer, Competition and Markets Authority
  • Polly MacKenzie, Chief Executive, Demos
  • Mick McAteer, Founder and Co-director, Financial Inclusion Centre
  • Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, Office of Students
  • Paul Philip, Chief Executive, SRA
  • Professor Suzanne Rab, Barrister; member of Council of the Regulatory Policy Institute; Professor of Commercial Law, Practice Chair, Brunel University; Law Lecturer, University of Oxford and Visiting Professor, Imperial College, London

Topics covered

Explore topics with expert speakers in interactive sessions including:

  • Regulating in uncertain times – in which direction is the regulatory pendulum moving?
  • Innovation and technology – will new technology improve access to services or risk leaving some people behind?
  • Changing behaviours – how should we respond to changing consumer expectations and the impacts of the pandemic?
  • Diversity – what role should regulators play in promoting diverse workplaces?

The event will also offer significant networking opportunities with key thinkers and decision makers across the regulatory and policy landscape.

Who is this event aimed at?

  • Regulators
  • Policy makers
  • Thinktanks
  • Academics
  • Legal professionals

Subject to government guidance at the time, this will be a physical, face-to-face event. Attending in person will give you the best opportunity to interact, network and create new and useful professional contacts.

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Legal Services Board of England and Wales release new report on ongoing competence

The Legal Services Board of England and Wales (LSB) has released a new blog alongside a newly commissioned report on ongoing competence. The blog highlights the fact that ‘the LSB’s work on ongoing competence is central to its regulatory objective to protect and promote the interests of consumers. Consumers should be able to trust that legal professionals have the necessary and up to date skills, knowledge and attributes to provide good quality legal services.’

The report was commissioned from legal market consultancy Hook Tangaza, following the LSB’s call for evidence in 2020, which identified ongoing competence measures used in legal services and other professional sectors in England and Wales as a key area of interest, stakeholders told the LSB that it would be beneficial to understand the approaches of other jurisdictions.

The blog sets out how the LSB has used the report to “identify some models in jurisdictions taking a first-principles approach to assuring ongoing competence, thinking about what they are trying to achieve and why. As a result, these jurisdictions are increasingly attentive to the regulation of legal professionals beyond the point of qualification i.e. in-practice regulation.”

Adding that “In-practice regulation has historically been overlooked around the world, while ensuring ongoing competence has not been prioritised or linked to a wider understanding of what competence looks like in a practising legal professional. This is out of step with consumer expectations of competence and the robust checks they assume are in place throughout legal professionals’ careers.”

Read the full report here, read more about the LSB’s work on competence here, or read the blog here.

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Legal Services Board of England and Wales consultation on new processes for changing regulatory arrangements

The Legal Services Board of England and Wales (LSB) has launched a consultation examing proposed new rules and guidance for alterations to regulatory arrangements. The LSB is considering the rule changes as part of its statutory functions in assessing applications from the nine different regulatory bodies in England and Wales to alter their regulatory arrangements. The existing process for this has not been substantially reviewed since 2010.

Following engagement with the approved regulators, which act as the representatives for each of the different legal professions in England and Wales, as well as the regulatory bodies, which regulate these professions in the public interest, the LSB has developed new rules and guidance intended to make sure the applications are explicitly and demonstrably focused on ensuring that all changes promote the regulatory objectives.

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board has said, “In discussion with regulators, we have developed new rules and guidance to ensure changes to regulatory arrangements are focused on promoting the regulatory objectives. We have made our expectations clearer and set out the regulatory changes that require our approval and the circumstances in which we may refuse to consider an application. The changes should lead to higher quality, evidence-based applications, and more efficient use of both the LSB’s and regulatory bodies’ resources.”

Read more about the consultation here, or view the documents here, or the background to the proposals here.

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