A new report by the Legal Services Board (LSB) was published on the 25th November, the report is designed to give a review of the legal services sector, ten years since the initiation of independent regulation. The report is entitled “The State of Legal Services 2020” and is made up of a narrative section and an evidence compendium, and is informed by data, evidence and conversations with a wide range of individuals and organisations over the last six months and research by the LSB and others.
The LSB was established in 2009 to oversee the regulation of legal services in England and Wales. The report concludes that despite a number of achievements over the last decade, the basic legal needs of many citizens are not being met. Citizens today do have more choice when it comes to finding legal advice, and satisfaction with services has increased. However, 3.6 million adults in England and Wales have an unmet legal need involving a dispute every year. More than 1 in 3 adults (36%) have low confidence that they could achieve a fair and positive outcome when faced with a legal problem. Nearly nine in ten people say that “law is a game in which the skilful and resourceful are more likely to get what they want”.
While many are concerned about reductions in the scale and scope of legal aid and increased pressure on third sector advice agencies, other factors also contribute. Many people and businesses lack the capability and confidence to recognise legal problems and get help. Comparison websites and customer review sites are not well established. Only 30% of consumers shop around, and only 2% use a comparison service before choosing a law firm. The market needs to put consumers first.
Exploring ways to address these challenges, the LSB says that it will be important to ensure that regulatory bodies put the interests of the public and consumers at the heart of everything they do. It has identified three areas of opportunity for all those involved in the sector to come together to drive improvement:
- Fairer outcomes – widening public access to advice and support and ensuring that no one has a worse outcome or quality of service due to their background or life circumstances. The sector must also build a more inclusive culture which enables anyone to enter the law and achieve their full career potential.
- Stronger confidence – resolving long-standing questions around the scope of regulation and broadening access to redress. It also requires regulators to put the right mechanisms in place so that legal professionals deliver consistently competent and ethical legal services.
- Better services – giving consumers the information and tools they need to drive stronger competition, creating the right conditions for providers – including those yet to enter the market – to redesign legal services that respond to their needs. It also entails regulators fostering responsible innovation that commands the trust of both the public and legal professionals.
Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said: “Despite the real successes of the last decade, many of the critical challenges facing the legal sector today existed when the Legal Services Act came into force. This partly reflects that it continues to be difficult for people to know when they have a legal problem and to engage with the legal services market and shop around. It also reflects policy decisions taken over a long period relating to the publicly-funded legal sector. However, as our report lays out, there is an opportunity for the sector to reinvent itself and embrace a culture that puts the needs of consumers at its heart. If we are successful, we will reduce unmet need and provide a much more equal experience for consumers. Shopping around will be the norm, and people will find it easier to find and compare providers and reward firms offering high quality and affordable services. Consumers will consistently trust the advice they get, knowing an independent and effective regulatory system is providing the essential protection they need. That system will be equipped to respond to the changing market, provide better value for money and support innovation. If consumers receive poor service, whatever type of provider they use, they will be able to complain to an independent body and obtain quick and fair redress.”