The Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation has released a supplementary report on consumer harm and legal services

The catalyst for the Review was the market study carried out by the Competition and Markets Authority in 2016. The CMA concluded that the legal sector was not serving the consumer well.

This supplementary report fills in some of the gaps left by the final report. Chiefly, the final report assumes the nature of consumer harm without exploring what this means in reality. This report examines what the types of consumer harm are in the legal sector, and the causes and consequences of this harm.

Read the full paper here.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales is consulting on proposed changes to its wellbeing standards

The consultation, running from the 4 March – 27 March follows increased concerns about the level of stress solicitors are experiencing as well as reports of bullying and harassment.

The consultation addresses two key issues:

  • The SRA has seen instances of serious, unfair and inappropriate treatment in the work place.
  • There has been an increase in cases in which a solicitors health issues have impacted their ability to conduct their work safely, potentially endangering the general public.

The proposed changes would provide explicit regulatory obligations to individuals and firms to treat colleagues with respect and dignity and to equip the SRA with the ability to take appropriate action where a solicitor’s health affects their fitness to practise.

Read the full story here.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales launches research to identify gaps in access to justice

The Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales has launched research to identify gaps in access to justice. The research will focus on where gaps exist across England and Wales and what impact these could have on different groups of consumers. The project will include an investigation into how factors such as ethnicity and socio-economic status impact access to legal services.

The research will be conducted by a team from the City of London University.

Read the full article here.

The Legal Services Board of England and Wales has launched a consultation on its draft business plan and budget for 2022/23

The Legal Services Board of England and Wales business plan is an attempt to push forward its goals of reforming the legal sector to better serve the consumer and deliver fairer outcomes, stronger confidence and better services.

The proposed new strategy includes financial protection arrangements, consumer redress and the rule of law and regulation. Key to this is a review of professional indemnity insurance and compensation funds to ensure a balance between consumer rights and the cost of protecting these rights. It is hoped the draft plan will allow the LSB to make progress on reforming the legal sector and cement the role of legal professionals in society more broadly.

Read the full article here.

The Scottish Government is beginning a consultation aimed at reforming legal services regulation

The Consultation has been launched with the aim of ensuring that consumer interests are at the heart of Scottish legal services moving forward. The Scottish Government are seeking views on developing a system of legal services regulation that would promote a flourishing legal sector and place consumer interests at its heart. Ministers want to ensure the system of regulation in Scotland incorporates the competitive provision of legal services, the public and consumer interest..

A consultation will run until 24th December based on recommendations from an independent review of the regulation of legal services. It will seek views on potential changes that could be made, developed collaboratively with stakeholders, designed to improve the transparency and accountability in the way in which legal services are regulated, and the legal complaints system operates in Scotland.

Read the full story here

Structural Changes to the Legal Service to Deepen Capabilities and Better Meet Evolving Demands

In an attempt to update legal services to meet evolving demand, the government of Singapore has proposed a number of changes, including:

1.Establishing a separate Judicial Service, overseen by a newly established Judicial Service Commission (JSC) headed by the Chief Justice. Legal Service Officers (LSOs) currently holding judicial posts, such as Assistant Registrars in the Supreme Court and District Judges and Magistrates in the State Courts and Family Courts, will be transferred to the new Judicial Service, as Judicial Service Officers (JSOs).

2. Making consequential changes to the Legal Service, which will be overseen by a reconstituted Legal Service Commission (LSC) headed by the Attorney-General. The Legal Service will comprise LSOs holding other (non-judicial) posts in Government, such as in the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) or Ministries.

These changes aim to put legal services in better stead for the future by allowing for more specialisation and allowing more space for adapting to specific management model moving forward.

Read the full story here

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. 

Ordinary Clients, Overreaching Lawyers, and the Failure to Implement Adequate Client Protection Measures

Abstract

Every year, thousands of individual clients are victimized by overreaching lawyers who overcharge clients, refuse to return unearned fees, or steal client money. Starting in the 1980s, the American Bar Association considered, and often proposed, client protection measures aimed at protecting clients from overreaching lawyers. These measures include requirements that lawyers use written fee agreements in their dealings with clients and Model Rules for Fee Arbitration, Client Protection Funds, Insurance Payee Notification, and Random Audits of Trust Accounts. This article examines what happened to these ABA recommendations when the states considered them and assesses the current state of client protection in the United States. It reveals that many jurisdictions have declined to adopt these measures or have adopted variations that do not adequately protect vulnerable clients. As a result, most states do not require lawyers to use written fee agreements and in most jurisdictions, ordinary clients have no meaningful recourse when fee disputes arise because lawyers are not required to arbitrate those disputes. While all states have established client protection funds to help reimburse clients who are victimized by their lawyers, many clients are not sufficiently compensated due to the low caps on recovery placed on some funds. At the same time, most states have declined to adopt other client protection measures that would help deter and detect lawyer defalcations. Why has this failure to protect ordinary clients occurred? The answer appears to be, in part, that state courts have paid insufficient attention to these issues or deferred to the state bars. The state bars have sometimes opposed these measures or implemented them in ways that inadequately protect the public. States with mandatory state bars—which are sometimes deeply involved in the rulemaking process—appear more likely to adopt fewer client protection measures. The article suggests that if state courts will not act to better protect ordinary clients, then state legislatures can and should do so.

Levin, Leslie C., Ordinary Clients, Overreaching Lawyers, and the Failure to Implement Adequate Client Protection Measures (August 16, 2021). American University Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 2, 2021,

Top jurists call for regulatory change to increase access to justice

During the 9th June ABA discussion on regulatory change, Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer of the Arizona Supreme Court stated that despite decades of efforts to encourage practising lawyers to perform a minimum of 50 pro bono hours annually to increase access to justice, minimal results have been achieved.

Timmer is part of a growing list of top jurists calling for regulatory change to expand access to justice. Instead of relying on pro bono work to increase legal access, for instance, regulatory changes could lead to nonlawyers handling some routine legal matters. She and chief justices from Utah, Michigan and Texas discussed some of these changes in the inaugural Redesigning Legal Speaker Series, which is intended to provide a forum to explore the legal profession’s regulatory changes underway and the challenges they face. Three ABA entities — the Center for Innovation, the Center for Professional Responsibility and the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services — have teamed up with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver and Legal Hackers to organize what is planned as a quarterly series.

The debut program, Redesigning Legal: Leading from the Bench — Expanding Access through Regulatory Innovation, also featured Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of Michigan, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of Texas and Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of Utah, and showcased how supreme courts in Utah and Arizona have ushered in regulatory change to expand access to justice.

In Arizona, legal paraprofessionals can now practice in four distinct areas. The state Supreme Court also eliminated model rules that prohibit the sharing of legal fees with nonlawyers.

In Utah, 23 pilot programs have been approved in the state’s seven-year “sandbox” approach, Durrant said. They range from a solo practitioner giving his sole paralegal 10% ownership in the firm to law students at Brigham Young University providing counsel to domestic violence victims.

Hecht, who is also chair of the Conference of Chief Justices, said courts are rethinking their roles because jurists realize pro bono efforts are not sufficient to provide access to the courts for many Americans. McCormack added, “We are going to forge forward in Michigan because this is now the time in the process to try. And the big winner could be the public.”

Read more 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.