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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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.

England and Wales regulators launch new customer review pilot

A joint pilot project has launched by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC), CILEx Regulation (CRL) and the Bar Standards Board (BSB), under which regulated law firms have been invited to help develop meaningful quality indicators,  which will aid potential clients when choosing their legal service provider.

The exercise has brought together website providers and firms, as well as encouraging existing clients to post reviews, in order to identify what indicators they use when purchasing and assessing legal services. Currently, over 70 firms have signed up to the pilot to look at how reviews could add value to other comparison data, such as price.

The group of regulators will be carrying out research to find the best way to raise awareness amongst consumers of the benefits of shopping around for legal services. Legal services tend to be one-off or infrequent purchases, so the ‘triggers’ used in sectors such as energy and insurance are not as evident. The research will therefore explore options relevant to the legal services market. As well as this the research is aiming to explore objective data which may help consumers compare quality and will be liaising with comparison website providers and firms involved in the pilot to collect this.

Tracy Vegro, SRA Executive Director, Strategy and Innovation, has said, “We were obviously confident of seeing the project produce meaningful results that would help develop meaningful quality indicators, but we did not expect to see such a strong level of engagement initially and to see other, far-reaching effects emerging too. We originally said the pilot would run for six months, but we want to expand it to make sure we capture all the great work that firms are doing. So there is still time for more firms to get involved and become part of the momentum the pilot is creating. Stimulating the market so it is motivated to act allows for greater innovation in the long run when compared to moving straight to increased regulation, and the sector is clearly reaping the benefits of this already. We would encourage any other firm to join the project.’

Read more about the pilot here. 

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.

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.

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

Event: Legalex

November; 10-11, 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.