Legal Services Board releases options on ongoing competence

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published anew report on ongoing competence in the legal services sector. Confirming that it plans to develop this thinking further and consult on how competence can be assured over the course of a lawyer’s career. In the report the LSB points out that whilst legal regulators have comprehensive measures on entry into the profession, however there are few checks to ensure that competence is maintained.

The report was produced following the call for evidence that was carried out in 2020. It has been compiled using extensive discussions with stakeholders across and outside the legal services sector. It also considers approaches taken in other sectors such as financial services, aviation, healthcare, engineering and teaching, which generally have more systematic ongoing competence checks.

From its research, the LSB has concluded that most consumers mistakenly assume that lawyers are subject to regular formal checks. It has suggested that this leads to a misalignment between the current practice and what the public expects. This is why the decision has been made that ensuring legal professionals’ ongoing competence is vital to ensuring consumers’ trust and confidence in the sector. The LSB’s view is that this would also help consumers avoid harm from poor quality legal services.

In its role as the oversight regulator, the LSB has a statutory duty to assist in developing regulatory standards in the legal sector. In the report, the LSB explains that it will proceed to develop and consult on new expectations for regulators, noting that these proposals are likely to encompass high-level expectations that legal regulators should:

  • set out the standards of competence that legal professionals should meet at the point of entry and throughout their careers; and
  • have mechanisms in place to:
    • identify legal professionals who are failing to meet those standards;
    • identify areas of increased risk to consumers;
    • respond when legal professionals fall short of the standards of competence;
    • provide appropriate protection when there is an increased risk of harm to consumers.

Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Sector, said:

‘Public trust and confidence are integral to the credibility of the legal services sector, and consumers need to know that their lawyers have the necessary, up-to-date skills, knowledge and attributes to help them with their legal problems. Many people assume that legal professionals are subject to ongoing formal reviews of their competence, but there are, in fact, very few routine checks once a lawyer has qualified. Legal regulators typically do not have systems or processes in place to identify or respond to concerns about competence. This is unusual and out of step with other professions which routinely adopt tools to ensure ongoing competence to promote public trust and confidence, and protect consumers from harm. We need to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society, which includes ensuring lawyers remain competent throughout their careers. This will help increase trust in legal services, raise standards and improve access to justice.’

Read the full report here, or the LSBs comments here.

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