Law Society of Scotland publishes a new strategy to improve regulatory process and enhance competition in the legal sector

The Law Society of Scotland’s Regulatory Committee has revealed a new two-year strategy, which is focused on improving regulatory processes, enhancing competition in Scotland’s legal sector and ensuring robust consumer protections. The Regulatory Committee is independent from the Law Society’s Council (the governing body of the Society), and is responsible for overseeing a number of sub-committees, as well as setting its own strategy, with the remit of regulating practice. The committee is made up of an equal numbers of solicitor and non-solicitor members and is led by a non-solicitor convener.

The new strategy sets out five overarching objectives. The first,  ‘protect’, is focused on protecting consumer and public interest, and protecting the rule of law. The second, ‘scrutinise’, is focused on examining the work of the subcommittee and other delegates of the committee to ensure their value and productivity. The remaining three are ‘enhance’, ‘align’, and ‘develop’. ‘Enhance’ is focused on raising public awareness of the society’s work, as well as developing a proportionate and principals focused regulatory structure that will enhance the competitiveness of the Scottish legal sector. ‘Align’ is focused on making sure that the regulatory committee’s work aligns with other groups in the society, whilst ‘develop’ is a process of internal self-reflection and development.

Craig Cathcart, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland Regulatory Committee said: “The legal profession has a key role in our society. Solicitors help people at pivotal points in their lives whether they are buying a new home, planning for the future of their family, building a successful business or upholding their rights in court. Anyone who seeks the advice of a solicitor must feel confident that they are in good hands. Having a robust and fair regulatory system which sets high standards for entry to Scotland’s solicitor profession and throughout a solicitor’s years in practice, along with clear consumer protections, provides that assurance.”

Read the full strategy here. 

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Legal Services Board annual regulatory performance review pushes improvements in performance and governance

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published annual reports on the performance of the eight legal services regulatory bodies. Each  one of the eight providers regulates a different type of lawyer in England and Wales, and has control over its day to day operations. However under the Legal Services Act 2007 (the Act), they have the same obligations and are assessed against the same 27 outcomes across five standards. The standards are: regulatory approach, authorisation, supervision, enforcement, and well-led: governance and leadership.

The report has found that the performance of most of the regulatory bodies has improved since the last assessment in November 2019. Notably, the Council of Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have met all the outcomes required across all standards. However, the report also found that although regulatory bodies are generally performing well against the authorisation, supervision and enforcement standards, there is a lower level of achievement in meeting the standard required for outcomes under the regulatory approach and well-led standards.

The LSB is therefore considering further actions including:

  • Undertaking a thematic review around regulatory approach in the coming year, depending on regulatory bodies’ progress in meeting the standard required.
  • Several of the not met ratings are associated with the quality and clarity of applications for statutory approval of changes to regulatory arrangements and practicing certificate fees. Whilst some regulators appear to be experiencing little difficulty in meeting these standards, the LSB recently started a review of its rules and guidance in this area.

In last year’s report, the LSB raised concerns over some regulatory bodies not fully embedding the regulatory performance framework into their governance arrangements. The LSB has subsequently launched targeted reviews of the Bar Standard Board (BSB) and Faculty Office (FO) on performance against the well-led standard. These reviews formally began in September 2020 and are scheduled to conclude in early 2021.

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board, said:

“Independent regulation protects the public and benefits the profession, and we have seen some welcome improvement across the regulatory bodies, particularly in their enforcement of standards and increased independence. However, there continue to be areas where improvement is needed. No regulatory body that is putting the public first in its decision-making and acting transparently to promote the regulatory objectives set out in the Act should have any difficulty in meeting the standards of good regulation. We expect the regulators to take the performance assessments as indicators of where improvements are needed to ensure they have the right mechanisms in place to carry out their regulatory duties effectively and efficiently. Appropriately regulated lawyers who deliver consistently competent and ethical services will give consumers stronger confidence in the sector and help build a legal services market that better meets the needs of society.”

Read the full report here. 

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UK Competition and Markets Authority review of legal services market

The UK Competition and Markets Authority has released an updated report based on its initial findings on the legal services market published in 2016. The report recognises the improvements that have been made in increasing the transparency of the price, service and quality of legal services, but said there was more to do to increase “the intensity of competition between providers”, calling for reforms particularly in the currently unregulated sector of the market.

The unregulated sector has grown significantly over the past few years, largely due to the rising use of legal technology products. The report raises concerns over the current regulatory framework and the focus on professional titles and reserved activities, as opposed to the risk profile of activities. Which it suggests could restrict competition, create unnecessary costs and leave a regulatory gap.

The CMA has recommended three actions within the existing regime which would help “deliver reform in stages”.

  • First was creating a mandatory public register of unauthorised providers for certain legal services and mandating that they offer redress options to consumers.
  • Second was that the Legal Services Board (LSB) should carry out a review of the reserved activities.
  • Third was the independence of regulation from professional representation. The CMA noted that “significant improvements” have been made as a result of revised internal governance rules imposed on bodies like the Law Society and Bar Council by the LSB.

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said: “This is an incredibly important sector that people often turn to at a time of great need, which is why the CMA made recommendations to improve consumer outcomes, including through increasing transparency, as well as to address concerns about the way in which the sector is regulated. It is positive to see changes that have already been made, but more progress is needed. We encourage the Ministry of Justice, the Legal Services Board and other legal services regulators to continue to work towards reform and to make sure the sector works well for consumers long into the future.”

Read the full review here or the LSB’s response here.

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Regulatory developments in Ireland

On the 19th November, The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) published two separate reports with recommendations to the Minister for Justice.

The first report is entitled, “Setting Standards: Legal Practitioner Education and Training“. The report is focused on examining the competence and standards required to practise as either a Solicitor or a Barrister in Ireland. The report contains two central recommendations:
1. A clear definition of the competence and standards required to practise as a solicitor or barrister should be developed;
2. The introduction of a statutory framework to establish a new and independent Legal Practitioner Education and Training Committee, which would be statutorily required and empowered to set the competency framework for legal practitioner education and training; develop a common set of competencies and standards for admission to professional legal training, and ensure that existing providers of legal education and training adhere to the standards required by the competency framework on an ongoing basis.

The second report is entitled, “Greater than the Sum of Its Parts? Consideration of Unification of the Solicitors’ Profession and Barristers’ Profession“. The report examines the case for the unification of the profession in Ireland, putting the question out for comment to the public. However, the Authority has concluded that at this stage in its regulatory timeline it would be premature to recommend that the two branches of the profession be unified. The Authority undertakes in the report to return to the matter within five years when it anticipates that the landscape for legal services providers will have evolved sufficiently for it to reconsider the question of unification as posed in the Act. This is due to upcoming changes including the introduction of relaxed rules around legal partnerships between barristers and other barristers or solicitors, as well as further consideration around multi-disciplinary practices.

These reports fulfil the LSRA’s statutory mandate to ensure the maintenance and improvement of standards in the provision of legal services by legal practitioners. Both reports have been submitted to the Minister, as required under section 34 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.

The LSRA’s press release on the two reports is available here. (PDF)

 

 

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Law Society of British Columbia to Widen Access to Legal Services

On September the 10th the Law Society of British Columbia elected to make changes suggested by a task force on modernisation established this January.

The task force cited ongoing changes in the legal market, which have been accelerated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the pace of change in other jurisdictions, as to why change was needed.

Recommendations include:

  • evaluate how existing and emerging technologies can better support legal services and address regulatory impediments that exist in permitting their use
  • move to amend regulatory structures to allow for innovation in legal service delivery and alternative business structures while protecting the public
  • re-evaluate current regulations and restrictions on law firm ownership and investment, as well as multi-disciplinary practice and partnership structures to ensure they are not inhibiting innovation
  • advance its initiative on the regulation of licensed paralegals to improve access to legal services
  • regularly reach out to and develop resources to support in-house counsel and government lawyers
  • continue work on Indigenous legal services by understanding where more support is needed and listen to and work with Indigenous peoples to address that need
  • re-consider the accreditation process for lawyers in British Columbia, with special consideration given to how to incorporate more skills-based training into that process

The task force was set up with the following mandate: “Recognizing that significant change in the legal profession and the delivery of legal services is expected over the next five to 10 years, the Futures Task Force will identify the anticipated changes, consider and evaluate the factors and forces driving those changes, assess the impact on the delivery of legal services to the public, by the profession and on the future regulation of the legal profession in British Columbia, and make recommendations to the Benchers on the implications of the anticipated changes and how the Law Society and the profession might respond to the anticipated changes.”

And began the recommendations by saying: “Change is constant in all aspects of our lives, and this is true in the practice of law as well. Client expectations, competition among lawyers and with other professionals, technology, generational expectations, and societal norms all affect what lawyers do and how they carry out their practice in important ways. Society’s expectations of what lawyers do and how they should do it also change. How lawyers keep up with these changes is very important for the availability of efficient and affordable legal services and for the confidence that the public has in the legal profession as a whole, and equally important for the sustainability of their practices and their personal well-being. A legal profession that is incapable of achieving outcomes that resonate with what society expects is one in which the public will eventually lose confidence. ”

Read the full recommendations here (PDF). 

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Mayson Report: Final report published

The highly anticipated denouement of the Independent Review of Legal Services, which was first launched in October 2018, was published on the 11th June. The 340-page report which has been informed by a number of working papers, as well as an interim report, which has been fed into by a variety of actors in the legal sector is entitled Reforming legal services: Regulation beyond the echo chambers.

Professor Mayson has suggested in the report that all providers of legal services, should be registered and regulated by a single regulator, whether they are legally qualified or not. He suggested that regulation should move from the regulation of lawyers to the regulation of legal services, with different levels of regulation being applied depending on the public risk inherent in the work. By extension, this would mean that traditional legal qualifications would no longer be the sole entry point into the profession.

The report has been submitted to the Lord Chancellor, however, the Ministry of Justice in the UK has suggested that they currently do not plan to review the Legal Services Act 2007. Professor Mayson has therefore suggested shorter-term measures that can be introduced, as he feels that action must come sooner rather than later.

Professor Mayson suggested that especially as demand has moved online, the public are increasingly unaware of their rights in relation to regulated professionals, whilst lawyers are operating under a system where only a small percentage of their work is covered under the regulatory regimes they are supposed to work under. “The conclusion of this review is that the regulatory framework should better reflect the legitimate needs and expectations of the more than 90% of the population for whom it is not currently designed,” he wrote. The new framework would also allow for new provides such as lawtech providers to act within a regulated sector. 

Professor Mayson also described the current arrangement of 10 front-line regulators plus an oversight regulator as “cumbersome”, and recommended replacing it with a single, independent regulator – the Legal Services Regulation Authority (LSRA). “The requirement for flexibility, consistency, coherence and coordination across regulation within the legal services sector necessarily leads to a single regulator,” the report said.

Download a full copy of the report (PDF).

The response from regulators has been mixed with CILEx (read the CILEx response) and the Association of Costs Lawyers (read the Association of Costs Lawyers response) backing professor Mayson’s report, and the LSB (read the LSB response) saying that they will carefully consider his recommendations in relation to their ongoing work in reforming legal regulation. Whilst the Law Society (read the Law Society response) has suggested that given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, now is not the time to discuss reforms.

Also see the article at Legal Futures for a further breakdown of the regulatory responses.

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Notes on the Westminster Legal Policy Forum keynote seminar – 25th February 2020

This ICLR special report has been compiled to give members a flavour of what was discussed during the annual Westminster Legal Policy Forum, held on the 25th February 2020. The theme of the day was ‘regulation, consumer protection and responding to innovation’, with speakers drawn from across regulators, representative bodies, academia and the legal services sector from across England and Wales. Further information about upcoming Westminster Legal Policy forum events, as well as publications from the forum, are available here.

The Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation – key issues to be addressed

Professor Stephen Mayson, Centre for Ethics and Law, University College London and Lead, Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation

The day began with a keynote speech by Professor Stephen Mayson outlining the progress of his hotly anticipated recommendations on legal services regulation. Professor Mayson took the opportunity to address some of the key issues that had arisen during the course of his research. Professor Mayson stressed that his report was written with the consumer as the primary concern, saying that given the scale of unmet legal need across England and Wales, it had become increasingly clear, both that the changes he will propose will be too radical to be achieved within the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA) and that he increasingly views reform as something that will need to take place sooner rather than later.

Professor Mayson raised four key issues that he has identified under the current regime:

  1.  The vulnerable – Professor Mayson highlighted the vast level of unmet legal need in the country, saying that the law is too complex and too important for the level of access available. Professor Mayson also criticised the “unprincipled” nature dichotomy of high barriers to entry to deliver reserved legal activities, which are treated as essential until a consumer can no longer afford them, at which point the consumer becomes able to self represent.
  2. The dabblers – Professor Mayson also criticised the narrow entry gate to the profession, which allows a wide range of practice. He highlighted the fact that the simultaneous licensing of title and activity allows legal practitioners to hold themselves out as capable of delivering in areas in which they have limited or no competence and experience, leading to a lack of credibility.
  3. Buridan’s ass – Professor Mayson discussed the philosophical concept of Buridan’s ass, in which a donkey placed equidistantly between two piles of food is unable to make a decision as to which one to move towards and starves. He compared this to regulatory reform, suggesting that unless a decision was made on either moving towards risk-based regulation, or some kind of reworking of the existing system then reform would become paralysed by a lack of choice.
  4. The Gordian Knot – Professor Mayson highlighted that his report will raise many questions as to what an independent regulatory system should look like, however, he highlighted that the current system creates the artifice of the approved regulator, which holds an unclear position between being a profession focused representative body and publicly focused regulator. Professor Mayson suggested that the time has come to sever the Gordian knot between the regulatory body and approved regulator.

The full text of Professor Mayson’s speech is available here, with further information about the independent review of legal services available here.

The future of legal services – technology adoption, the changing shape of professional services firms and regulatory development

A lively panel discussion followed the keynotes speech, with panellists providing analysis on what they saw as key issues in the regulation of legal services

Neil Rose, Founder and Editor, Legal Futures – Mr Rose discussed some of the need for reform, pointing out that whilst the current system works well for some, there remain an awful lot of people for whom it doesn’t. Neil pointed out that the attitude in the sector still gravitates towards “we do things this way because this is how it’s always been done”. He raised the idea that the LSA has acted as a catalyst in allowing new businesses to come in and disrupt the sector, pointing out that concerns over compromised standards have not been fulfilled. Neil also pointed towards the new Solicitors qualifying exam suggesting that it could lead to seismic changes in the profession. He also pointed towards further reforms as creating the opportunity for the sector to further grow and develop.

John Gould, Senior Partner, Russell-Cooke; Author, The Law of Legal Services and Member, Advisory Panel, Independent Review of Legal Services – Mr Gould began by asking if there is really a need and an appetite for change. He then went on to describe how the current system has become something of a “lottery winners bungalow”, with many developments and aspirational additions tacked on, with no coherent whole. Mr Gould suggested that this has created a system where compliance officers have become a necessity as a go-between between lawyers and regulators, with the public completely excluded, with no clarity as to how the system works. He suggested that a clearer and more understandable system must be developed with the relationship between activity and title being clearly defined, to create a system that can function for the public, practitioners and regulators.

Duncan Wiggetts, Executive Director, Professional Standards, ICAEW – Mr Wiggets discussed how the distinction between lawyers and non-lawyers has become increasingly blurred. He suggested that for consumers of legal services costs had become a key factor in how purchasing decisions are made, leading to a convergence between accountants, lawyers and other business advisors. Mr Wiggets pointed towards the Brydon and Kingman reviews into audit and financial reporting, suggesting that these could inform the ongoing work of the Mayson review. He suggested that both these reports pointed towards the primacy of public interest and the need for risk-based regulation.

Kirsteen Forisky, Head of Innovations, LEAP Legal Software – Ms Forisky pointed out that changes in the legal environment have fundamentally altered legal service delivery. She pointed out that to remain competitive firms must begin to use technology, particularly cloud-based software, in order to improve their efficiency and information-sharing capabilities. She pointed out that this will enable firms to work in an agile way, meeting client demands in today’s business environment, allowing them to offer an enhanced client experience, without creating added pressures and costs on employees.

Derek Sweeting QC, Vice-Chair, Bar Council – Mr Sweeting discussed the risks present in opening up the profession. He cited current concerns over unregulated legal providers, raising the example of Paul Wright v Troy Lucas & George Rusz, citing the danger of unregulated provision. Mr Sweeting suggested that consumers prefer to rely on named professionals, who they can trust and rely on to provide quality services. Mr Sweeting suggested that the growing number of solicitors entering into the profession combined with increased public legal knowledge would meet the unmet legal need gap in a way that allowed people to place trust in the legal sector.

Chair’s closing remarks

Lord Gold

Based on the discussion throughout the morning Lord Gold took the opportunity to urge the Ministry of Justice to take action on simplifying the regulatory regime, highlighting the fact that unless there is political action, the profession will continue to debate and delay ad infinitum. The Conservative peer raised concerns over regulators ability to respond to technology and other challenges and said: “If you leave it to the brilliant lawyers we have in this country, they will obfuscate and delay and it will never happen … Now is the time for the MoJ to rip this up and decide what exact regulatory regime we need for the future.”

The state of the market – transparency, consumer engagement and reflections on the 2016 Market Study

Chris Jenkins, Economics Director, Competition and Markets Authority – Mr Jenkins gave his thoughts on the progress that had been made since the release of the CMA’s hugely influential 2016 study on the legal services market. He pointed out that in the initial study there had been a pledge to review the progress approximately every three years, and told the event that a review was planned for the second half of 2020. Taking a broad view Mr Jenkins suggested that tackling the issue of public ability to asses price and quality had not been fully addressed and that more work was needed on the issue to improve consumer ability to make purchasing decisions. He called for regulators to push forward on improving standards of transparency, making it easier to compare services and providers. He did point out however that there had been greater progress in implementing changes improving independence and regulatory transparency which had been a positive move, although he suggested that there was still more work needed in improving consumer redress.

The focus on consumers – public confidence, competition and managing ‘unmet legal need’

Simon Davis, President, The Law Society – Mr Davis discussed the findings of the recently published legal needs survey, which was produced by the law society in partnership with the LSB and YouGov. Mr Davis pointed out that the results of the survey suggested that when people did purchase legal services from a solicitor the vast majority were satisfied with the service and outcome. He pointed out that many consumers were unsure if their problem constituted a legal problem and therefore failed to seek advice. He suggested, therefore, that the solution in tackling unmet legal need was improving legal aid provision and increasing public legal education, to help consumers identify when they had a legal issue.

Dr Ashwini Natraj, Senior Economic Consultant, Consumer and Behavioural Economics Team, London Economics – Dr Nataraj outlined the work that London Economics has been doing on the relationship between behavioural economics and public engagement with the legal sector. She discussed some of the ongoing issues that exist in public decision making around legal services, highlighting problems such as the complexity of the market, stress purchasing, information asymmetry, and the infrequency of purchasing. She pointed out that this has led to low awareness of consumer protections, low confidence in the sector, particularly amongst vulnerable groups and difficulty balancing price and quality. She suggested that behavioural economics approaches could be used to improve engagement and understanding of legal regulation, particularly as there was a difficult balance between providing enough information to give consumers clarity, which has to be balanced against overwhelming consumers with a vast weight of information.

Mariette Hughes, Head Ombudsman, Legal Ombudsman – Ms Hughes discussed the role of the Legal Ombudsman in improving public confidence in legal services. She pointed out that as the last resort and last port of call the ombudsman is often the key touchpoint in maintaining public confidence amongst the most vulnerable and most challenging cases. However, she pointed out that there was still a presumption that the ombudsman would be able to provide consistent supply and quality, raising questions over the resources available to the ombudsman. She also pointed out whilst having a single ombudsman for the whole sector helps to improve confidence, there is also the risk that a single ombudsman can not leave some gaps, which must be met by specialised regulators to avoid damaging public confidence.

Rob Houghton, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, really moving and The Law Superstore – Mr Houghton discussed the role of price and quality comparison sites in providing consumers with resources to better understand the legal market. He pointed out that having resources to compare prices allows for greater influence of natural market forces over an opaque marketplace. He suggested that having greater price and quality competition could only stand to benefit consumers, as it would increase the information available whilst also pushing providers to improve the value proposition of their services, effectively creating a new way to sell their services on value and quality, allowing them to compete with larger organisations.

Julia Salasky, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Legl – Ms Salasky discussed the role that technology can play in addressing consumer side challenges. She suggested that as expectations of a certain level of consumer experience increase, failing to meet this expectation reflects increasingly negatively on the profession.  She suggested that technology could provide an incredible opportunity for the industry to improve communication around value and transparency of products, which could go on to inherently improve public confidence in their legal purchases, and therefore public confidence in the law as a whole.

Regulation in the legal services market – structures, roles and independence

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive, Legal Services Board (LSB) – Mr Hill raised concerns over the fact that unmet legal need was still a major problem and that the legal market was not working for a significant proportion of the population and economy. He compared the current regulatory system to a chair with two legs, saying “You can sit on it perfectly comfortably provided a lot of people spend a lot of time holding it steady for you. We do spend a lot of time making independence work by investing time and effort in it.” Suggesting that the current system can be made to work and that further change can be wrung out of it, however, to truly create an impact there must be a wholesale change in legal regulation. He said “The existing system is undoubtedly complex. It’s built around professions and not consumers. For example, reserved legal activities and title-focused regulators make sense to regulators and sectors, but not necessarily to the public.” He suggested that whilst public legal education played a valuable role, it clearly had not significantly shifted public views on the sector and was sometimes used as a way of blaming the public rather than taking responsibility for change. He ultimately suggested that reform would have to come about at some point and should be built around meeting consumer needs first. Mr Hill also questioned whether, given the scale of some regulatory bodies, they were all fully able to deliver public outcomes.

Ewen Macleod, Director of Strategy and Policy, Bar Standards Board  (BSB) –  Mr Macleod agreed that change was needed to improve public confidence. He suggested that the greatest risk to consumers came about during the initial advice to consumers. He, therefore, suggested that the answer did not lie in creating further barriers, and instead lay in working to improve reputational issues. He said that through broadening the scope of after the event regulation, increasing access to the Legal Ombudsman and improving public information over how to access legal services, public confidence could be improved. He suggested that the board supported a greater focus on risk-based approaches, but that a title was necessary to provide clarity during purchase, suggesting that there is an issue over how risk-based approaches can map onto the public consciousness of existing titles and recognition. Mr Macleod also suggested that the BSB needs to be ready to respond to new developments in legal technology, in order to meet public expectation on the issue.

Chris Handford, Director of Regulatory Policy, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Mr Handford explained that given the fact that as of yet there have not been changes announced in the regulatory regime, therefore the SRA would continue to reform within the boundaries of the existing framework, stressing that the SRA was limited by decisions made at a government level and within the LSB, and within the confines of the LSA. He put forward several reforms that had been put implemented by the SRA, including rewriting solicitors standards to become more principles focused; work to increase trust and consistency, including exploring better quality indicators and ongoing competence; he talked about legal technology suggesting that there is significant potential in the area to improve access to justice, however, also flagging that the SRA must be alive to the potential risks technology could create. Mr Handford suggested that the direction of travel in the profession was towards increasingly blurred boundaries, with a lot of change coming, pointing out that regulators must be ready to embrace and act on this change in order to manage it and effectively fulfil their function.

Stuart Dalton, Director of Policy and Enforcement, CILEx Regulation (CRL) – Mr Dalton began by advocating strongly for the reforms being suggested by Stephen Mayson, suggesting that CRL could be ready to address much of the regulatory void that the report had identified, particularly around tech, helping to address much of the identified need, suggesting that under its current position CRL is already well equipped to deliver regulation around specific activities, given its current structure in regulation across the legal sector. Mr Dalton also took the opportunity to highlight CRL and CILEx’s strong commitment to regulatory independence. Emphasising that CRL has committed to achieving the highest possible degree of independence from CILEx as is possible under current statutory limits. He suggested that in the future regulatory independence, with a public focus would become the norm in legal regulation and that CRL would be leading the way towards this change.

Chair’s closing remarks

Rt Hon the Lord Falconer of Thoroton – Lord Falconer, the architect of the LSA gave his thoughts on the proceedings saying it was “apparent that the legal services market is not servicing the whole market properly and that market forces will not solve that problem”. He said that clearly the solutions had to come from a combination of regulators and public funding, pointing out that government buy-in is necessary to implement and initiate genuine change. The peer gave a nod to discussions about the complexity of the regime, as well as the growing role of technology, saying: “I am sure that there are things that could be done to improve the structure, but I believe that the structure is sufficiently flexible for the regulatory issues to be met. I am not that persuaded that a fundamental shift in the legislative structure is a good idea… but I do think one of the big problems is the failure of the state to provide sufficient legal aid and other forms of funding for advice that the market would not otherwise provide.”

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Legal Services Regulatory Authority publishes annual report

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) in Ireland has published its 2019 Annual Report which provides an overview of its performance for the year, including its new role in handling public complaints relating to solicitors and barristers.

The Annual Report contains statistical data on complaints and early trends, including:

  • During the 12 week period from 7th October to the end of December 2019, the LSRA’s Complaints and Resolutions Unit received a total of 304 complaints (301 relating to solicitors and 3 relating to barristers).
  • A total of 141 complaints alleged inadequate standards of services, with 134 alleging misconduct and 29 relating to alleged excessive costs (overcharging).
  • The Complaints and Resolutions Unit received 954 phone calls and emails requesting information and/or complaint forms.
  • Among the areas of legal services complained about were wills and probate, litigation, conveyancing and family law.
  • A total of nine complaints in 2019 involved issues relating to alleged criminal activity, with the majority related to allegations made against what is suspected to be a bogus law firm.

LSRA Chief Executive Brian Doherty said:

“The LSRA had been expecting an early spike in complaints and that is exactly what we have experienced. It is still too early to point to particular trends in relation to the complaints we have received. However, allegations of poor communication between legal professionals and their clients is emerging as a strong feature across almost all complaints. Regular and timely communication with clients appears to be a key lesson for practitioners in preventing and settling complaints before they escalate.”

As well as looking at complaints the report also looked at new statistics available on LLPs

In November 2019, the LSRA introduced a new framework allowing partnerships of solicitors to operate as LLPs.

This new business model is intended to put Ireland on a par with other jurisdictions and has the potential to increase competition in the legal services market, reduce professional indemnity insurance costs for LLPs, and consequently lower costs for consumers.

By the end of 2019, 88 valid applications for LLP authorisation were submitted by legal firms, and 28 authorisations were issued by the LSRA.

The full report is available here.

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Law Society of Saskatchewan amends Legal Profession Act to expand access to legal services

The Law Society of Saskatchewan has announced amendments to the Legal Profession Act, 1990, effective from 1 January 2020. The Law Society is an independent regulator with the core mandate of the protection of public interest.

In 2017 the Law Society and the Ministry of Justice established the Legal Services Task Team, comprised of lawyers, member of the public and other non-lawyers working in legal services, as part of the strategic plan to increase access to legal services. The task team was asked to explore the possibility of non-lawyers being allowed to provide low-risk legal services.

The team’s recommendations included clarifying the definition of the practice of law, and identifying what constituted unauthorised practice of law; expanding the list of exemptions to the unauthorised practice provisions; and creating limited licenses that may be granted by the Law Society on a case-by-case basis.

Amendments to the Act which have been introduced include:  a clearer definition of the practice of law and allowing limited licensing, the first example of this approach in Canada. The Law Society of Saskatchewan Rules were also amended to include an expanded list of exemptions to unauthorised practice. The Law Society is attempting to identify further groups and individuals providing limited legal services, who are not lawyers, that may not fall neatly within the new list of exemptions.

The Society is hoping to encourage low-risk providers to self identify to be considered for exemptions, especially as the Society has historically not pursued low-risk providers. The Society feels that self-identification will allow for more effective management and regulation of such providers.

Further information about the reforms is available here.

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Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey reveals new legal regulation strategy

Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey has unveiled Bill 161, which is designed to both implement Legal Aid Services Act, as well as amending the Law Society Act. The act is designed to ease the regulatory burden, as well as creating some accountability from lawyers. Some of the proposed changes include:

  • raising maximum fines for lawyers to $100,000 from $10,000
  • adding to the circumstances in which a lawyer or paralegal’s license can be revoked
  • moving towards entity-based regulation by defining a “firm”

See the full proposals on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario site (PDF).

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