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Independent Review of UK Legal Services Regulation Launched

The Centre for Ethics and Law in the UCL Faculty of Laws is undertaking a fundamental review of the current regulatory framework for legal services, led by Honorary Professor Stephen Mayson.

The independent review is intended to explore the longer-term and related issues raised by the 2016 Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study, which concluded that the legal services sector is not working well for individual consumers and small businesses, and that the current regulatory framework is unsustainable in the long run.  It called for a review of that framework to make it more flexible as well as targeted at areas of highest risk where regulation is most needed.

The review’s objectives will be to consider how the regulatory framework can best:

  • promote and preserve the public interest in the rule of law and the administration of justice;
  • maintain the attractiveness of the law of England & Wales for the governance of relationships and transactions and of our courts in the resolution of disputes;
  • enhance the global competitiveness of our lawyers and other providers of legal services;
  • reflect and respond flexibly to fast-changing market conditions being driven by innovation and advances in technology;
  • protect and promote consumers’ interests, particularly in access to effective, ethical, innovative and affordable legal services and to justice; and
  • lead the world in proportionate, risk-based and cost-effective regulation of legal services, consistent with the better regulation principles.

The review will reflect these objectives and consider how we can best ensure that our legal services remain of high quality and are effective, and that their regulation is proportionate and fit for purpose.  It will also need to re-examine how to give the public much-needed transparency about the legal providers they use and the services they pay for, and ensure that they understand their options and the consequences of their choices.

The first two working papers are already published.  Each of the working papers will address the issues and challenges raised by the four fundamental questions of the review:

  • Why should we regulate legal services? (Rationale)
  • What are the legal services that should be regulated? (Scope)
  • Who should be regulated for the provision of legal services? (Focus)
  • How should we regulate legal services? (Structure)

In pursuing its work, the review will seek to engage with a wide range of stakeholders and interested parties, including the CMA, the Legal Services Board, approved regulators, front-line regulators, representative bodies, consumers, the judiciary, practitioners, and providers of legal education and training.

It is now open for submissions in response to the working papers, and for meetings and discussions to explore the issues: to follow up, contact Professor Stephen Mayson.

Read more at the University College London Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation page.

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How can Blockchain and other Consensus Driven Cryptographic Technology be Regulated?

Some participants in the crypto/blockchain/DLT industry actively invite regulatory oversight but policy considerations and the usual patterns of legal and regulatory development can mean that wanting to be regulated is not always the same as being able to be regulated.

In the Hong Kong Lawyer, Syren Johnstone examines aspects of the technology that make it difficult to regulate the primary and secondary market, while at the same time allowing industry development without it being affected by fraud and abuse, or being used to service money laundering and other criminal purposes. It concludes by suggesting the policy approach that regulators should take to this new technology.

*This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Lawyer


The technology is the starting point

In 1988 Tim May famously stated “Computer technology is on the verge of providing the ability for individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other in a totally anonymous manner. Two persons may exchange messages, conduct business, and negotiate electronic contracts without ever knowing the True Name, or legal identity, of the other.” Today, that has become a reality in a developing digital ecosystem that is being built on cryptographically secure consensus technology (“CCTech”) that forms the basis of blockchain and distributed ledger technology applications.

CCTech enables qualitatively different boundaries of commercial activity than was previously possible. It holds the promise of enabling new ways of undertaking existing commerce that provide efficiency gains, as well as generating new types of commercial activity. The first peer-to-peer version of electronic cash created on 3 January 2009 (Bitcoin), has been followed by other cryptocurrencies, digital tokens that provide access to some service or utility or operate as a security (see Hong Kong Lawyer, March 2018 “ICO Utility Tokens and the Relevance of Securities Law”), and smart contracts (collectively, ”cryptos”).

Industry growth has involved developers tapping into the highly regulated public capital market in ever-larger offerings. A secondary market facilitated by crypto exchanges has emerged. This is creating significant challenges to regulatory agencies to define how existing laws and regulations might apply.

Establishing a sustainable regulatory approach is complicated by features of CCTech still undergoing transformational evolution that pose novel challenges to regulatory policy making and raise fundamental questions about what regulatory oversight might look like, and to what it should attach.

The prospect of regulation

On the prospect of oversight by regulatory agencies, the crypto-industry continues to express its voice in a partisanly manner. There are those who see independence from oversight as a necessary expression of political freedom, or advocate that the industry should not be subjected to any oversight other than by the community participating in cryptos. Other participants in the industry wish to take advantage of the current situation by moving to the lowest commercially viable legal standard or jurisdiction.

There are also those who actively seek to be regulated as a means of being accepted into mainstream commercial activities and validated as a legitimate activity, and to foster the industry by directing it to applications benefitting society. Some see regulation as a competitive advantage over others who are ill-equipped, or inadequately funded, to cope with the anticipated burden of regulatory oversight. However, policy considerations and the usual patterns of legal and regulatory development can mean that wanting to be regulated is not always the same as being able to be regulated.

Regulatory agencies have to date primarily applied existing regulatory standards to the industry where they can. There is a general sense that this will not be enough to facilitate industry development while also dealing with the risk of fraud and consumer abuse. There are also real concerns that the anonymity provided by CCTech could be used by bad actors to further criminal purposes.

The primary hurdle for regulatory clarity is sometimes said to be the legacy system of laws, regulations and financial and commercial practices that have been established in a pre-CCTech era. Industry requests for regulators to specify the features that would determine which regulatory silo a crypto belongs to (money, security, futures contract, commodity, or other) oversimplifies the new context presented by CCTech and underestimate the related policy considerations.

Primary market activity thus remains governed by a singular question: is the crypto a security? This leaves CCTech developers cum promoters to resolve questions that lawyers and regulatory agencies cannot currently clearly define other than by reference to broad functional concepts, or narrow established categories, raising the danger of ex post regulation.

The development of taxonomies that seek to map cryptos onto existing securities laws as a means of assisting regulatory clarity has become a mini-industry. However, these often “solve” the problem without changing the underlying assumptions about how existing laws securities laws apply. As such they are essentially recursive and achieve very little. It is of course somewhat paradoxical to address something new by treating it as though it were something old.

In contrast to the situation in the primary market for securities, regulators in the UK and the U.S. have permitted a futures market to evolve around cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, and recently Ether). The court in CFTC v. McDonnell, et al. (18-CV-361, 2018) has confirmed the oversight powers of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) in this regard. Although many in the industry perceive regulatory oversight as abhorrent to the essence of CCTech, regulatory oversight of the futures market has enabled the development of financial products within an established regulated infrastructure that has facilitated the perception of cryptocurrencies as a valid asset class to gain exposure to. Importantly, it means that investors are brought within a context subject to safeguards imposed on regulated intermediaries.

Building blocks

Regulation of the financial services industry in the modern era is based around three primary choke points concerning products, venues and acts. These assume some form of intermediation via markets, brokers and advisers. Regulation has already had to adapt in response to technology that displaces human involvement, such as algorithmic trading and robo-advising, where sentience ceases to form part of the regulated act but rather is embedded in the coding that enables the act to be undertaken.

CCTech presents additional difficulties. There is a venue, but it may be only exist in a code supported on a network of participants. There is an act, but that may take place without intermediation other than the non-sentient operation of a code operated over a network in which the creator no longer has a role. There is a product, but there is a recognised lack of clarity as to how to characterise a crypto for the purposes of regulatory silos. CCTech enables venue, act and product to be collapsed into the operation of code via distributed networks, decentralised and dis-intermediated arrangements, and smart contracts.

The possibility of undertaking commercial activity on a decentralised, peer-to-peer basis represents a qualitatively different kind of issue for regulatory agencies. At some point, adaptability may be challenged to the extent that existing regulatory tools which have developed around centralised, intermediary-based systems may to some extent be rendered obsolete, raising questions as to the continued viability of existing legal silos and traditional choke points, and giving rise to policy concerns.

Even if basic problems were solved about which or whether a law applies to a crypto, or at what choke point to apply it, there remain problematic areas. Regulation proceeds on the basis that regulation is possible but CCTech does not, at the present point in time, provide some of the usual building blocks that enable the meaningful implementation of regulatory objectives.

This includes an assortment of investor protection and market integrity considerations, such as: integrity of ownership and integrity of transactions, issues related to account management including proof of ownership to public audit standards, custody and segregation, how record keeping is to be undertaken, how exchange regulation might work, the ability to assert market transparency and market abuse protections, how money laundering risks are to be addressed.

To this can be added technical issues that the industry is actively trying to solve, many of which potentially give rise to legal issues and have implications for investor protection and market integrity. These often require an appreciation of how the science and technology operate and their weak points such as how they might be gamed by bad actors. They include: the management of keys and wallets, the risk of consensus hijack, denial of service attacks, double spending, scalability, code governance controls and cyber security challenges.

Disclosure is another building block. Key disclosures might address: does the underlying code do what it is expected or promised to do, is the governance of the code appropriate (such as agreeing on roll-backs), has it been properly written so that it is free of bugs that might facilitate hacks or other problems, has the security protocols been properly implemented, is the crypto scalable to benefit from network effects. Not all codes are the same in this regard and coding errors have caused significant problems in the past, yet there are no established standards for audits of code writing.

Not all problems are adequately managed by merely releasing information. Positive action is sometimes required. This can take the form of an industry regulating itself via standards and best practices, but the industry is in its nascent stages in this regard. An area of development to watch is the standards being developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation in their ISO/TC 307 programme. Nine new projects concerned with blockchain and DLT are currently in their proposal or preparatory stages.

Resolving some of the above building blocks is therefore a precursor for effective, granular regulation to develop. Solutions are likely to come from the technology itself as it develops in response to regulatory expectations. This may serve to facilitate the development of regulatory technology, which presents opportunities for creating avenues within the underlying CCTech code for interactions between the actors involved in any crypto generation or exchange, any buyer of a crypto, and regulatory agencies.

One of the inherent difficulties of addressing the regulation question is the reality that the industry is in its early stages of maturation. Core concepts are still subject to significant debate, the potential technological implementations of the science remains in a discovery and development phase, and the prospects for commercial use cases of CCTech is still evolving. This makes the policy formation that leads to regulatory implementation difficult as these conditions increase the risk that regulations are made only to see the industry change under it, or regulations are made that capture the wrong family of acts – in either case the policy objectives are missed.

The dynamics that animate regulatory change are subject to two related overarching considerations: to what extent is meaningful regulation possible and, if it is, how and when should regulatory oversight be imposed? Regulatory intervention that is too early, too heavy, or misses the target runs the risk of slowing the growth of the industry and damaging the beneficial prospects it offers to commercial activity and society more generally.

The technology is also the end point

The present state of regulatory uncertainty creates risks to the industry itself. It increases the cost of industry development because raising capital in an uncertain legal environment gives rise to increased liability risk. To this can be added the risks (including attendant industry costs) already observed in traditional capital markets (primary and secondary) that include fraud, money laundering, theft, mis-disclosure, manipulative practices, internal control failures, misfeasance, and adequate custody and handling of money, or securities or other assets belonging to another.

Whatever regulatory controls might be put in place, the reality is that the nature of CCTech presents a fundamental obstacle to oversight control because of the possibility – and consequences – of an alternative means of undertaking commerce on Internet-based networks that does not require the involvement of a regulated financial institution that intermediates transactions.

The intractable problem created by CCTech is how to bring cryptos within an appropriate oversight mechanism given its particular technological capability to subvert – unmeasured oversight control runs the risk of achieving the opposite effect of driving activity further out of sight. The proposal by the United States Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) that it may add digital wallet addresses to its SDN List was criticised for just that. This reflects the anarchic potential of CCTech that is crucial for regulators to fully grasp if regulation is to be successfully developed. Regulatory agencies may need to look for ways of bringing oversight to the industry by using strategies different to those previously employed.

Actors in the industry seeking to be regulated are doing so for a number of commercial reasons including validation and legitimacy, the usual assurances provided to the market by regulatory oversight, industry risk reduction, and access to a larger pool of capital. It is proposed that these reasons can be engaged to make regulation a desirable option.

In short, the best way to establish regulation may be to make it attractive. That may not be a regulatory end-point but a point from which regulators can begin to better work with the industry. For that dynamic to work, it is essential that oversight controls do not undermine the opportunities that cryptos offer to new ways of engaging in commercial activity. Regulations must be based on outcomes that are independent of specific technologies and activities, such as fair disclosure, industry standards, and accountability for wrongdoing. Care must be taken that oversight controls do not to operate as anti-competitive tools.

The range of relations that CCTech can possibly create, and the behaviours in the market once they are created, are at once simulacra of human commerce and a potential further development of it. It remains to be seen whether the current trajectory of regulatory thought and action is working toward supporting the efficient allocation of risk and industry development, wherein capital finds projects that offer, and have a reasonable prospect of delivering, economic and social improvement.


Interested in the impact of new technologies on regulation? Get involved at this year’s annual conference. Contact Jim McKay (jamesmckay@lawscot.org.uk) to become involved as a speaker or session moderator. 

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Four steps legal regulators can take to embrace their data

Data has always been a foundational part of the practice of law. However, the convenience, accessibility, and speed of digital mediums is transforming the discipline from within. Law firms are stepping up the plate leveraging their internal data, as well as industry data to make their practice and delivery of services more efficient and effective. E-Discovery, case predictive technologies and even fledgling artificial intelligence programmes are proliferating across top firms globally. Small and large firms alike are engaging with varying degrees of software to manage information and leverage its value.

It is time legal regulators attempt to match pace. This month ICLR.net is focusing on how legal regulators can start to think about data’s role in improving their regulatory responsibilities. We have identified four preliminary steps to help your institution to start thinking about leveraging data.

1. Start small and close to home: Identify your data sources

Identify consistent incoming sources of data. This may be lawyer registrations, renewals and fees. This “low hanging fruit” often serves as the fundamental data base, which can yield insights such as lawyer demographics and disciplinary patterns.

2. Clean and organise your data

Unwieldy spreadsheets no longer make the grade. Setting your organisation up for success means treating your data properly and preparing it for utilisation. Categorising and cleaning your data in a consistent manner will make things easier down the road. Data should be stored in a clear and structured format, which is both secure and shareable with appropriate access permissions.

3. Collaborate with those who know data

Some institutions may want to call the professionals in from day one. Smaller organisations may be able to tackle the first two steps on their own, but to begin to leverage analytics really requires a professional touch for the best results. You should be looking for a company specialises in data structures and analytics. The legal tech sector is rich with software providers offering data management products, but working with a professional in selecting the best fit for your organisation’s data or building a unique system is what will ensure success. It is key to work with someone with the skills as well as background knowledge and insights into the legal profession and industry.

4. Fostering a data-driven culture

Legal information and data powerhouse Thomson Reuters puts it best:

“Building a data-driven legal practice is not something you assign to a task force, department, or an individual. It requires a buy-in from everyone from the top leadership down.”

In addition, it is worth saying that employees at all levels should be involved in the data system development process, to ensure compatibility and realistic adoption and utilisation of the system. The human resource is what will bring an organisation the strongest return on any data investment.

Is data analytics for your organisation?

Some regulators may believe they are too small or the resource required to harness data is too great. However, these four steps can be completed at various levels, just as law firms of all sizes are engaging in data tools. Ultimately, it will be a matter of survival for regulators to keep pace with those they regulate. Information has a strong multiplier effect, and data analytics has the power to transform regulation and industry’s productivity as a whole.


We are interested in hearing about how your institution is using data to assist in regulation. Let us know! Interested in the power of data in regulation – get involved at this year’s annual conference. Contact Jim McKay (jamesmckay@lawscot.org.uk) to become involved as a speaker or session moderator. 

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Transparency lies at the heart of Consumer Satisfaction

In January, the Legal Services Board (LSB) of England & Wales released its “Regulatory Performance: Transitional Assessment Review” looking at the transitional assessment of each legal services regulatory body against the LSB’s regulatory performance standards. The report found that it had “sufficient assurance that the regulatory bodies have met the minimum required level of performance against the majority of expected outcomes”.

Transparency across the legal services market lies at the heart of consumer satisfaction. Recent Competition and Market Authority statistics found that before choosing their legal service provider 85% of consumers want better access to information, 53% want information about price, and 37% of consumers what to know about the quality of the service they would receive. In response, the Solicitors Regulation Authority released new price transparency rules, which requires regulated firms to publish price and service information on their websites.

Since 6 December 2018, all solicitors firms had to publish cost information in relation to conveyancing, probate, debt, employment and immigration. The new rules dictate that firms must provide a total cost or an average or range of costs, as well as explain the basis of these charges, including any hourly rate or fixed fees. Firms also must be clear on whether VAT is included, while also highlighting likely disbursements, and their costs. Any conditional or damages-based fees must be fully explained to clients who may have to make payments.

In addition to price transparency, firms are also required to ensure consumers under stand the services they require and are receiving. The rules demand firms

  • Explain what services are included for the quoted price
  • Highlight any services not included within the price, which a client may reasonably expect to be
  • Include information on key stages and typical timescales of these, and
  • Publish the qualifications and experience of anyone carrying out the work and of their supervisors.

SRA’s ‘Looking to the Future’ programme is based on a sound argument that law firms must become more transparent if they are to survive. Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “Publishing information on price, services and protections will not only benefit the public, but will also help law firms win new business. Research shows that people struggle to find clear information about the services firms offer and think using a solicitor is more expensive than it actually is. We are providing guidance and support for firms to help them meet the new requirements and make the most of the opportunities they bring.”

The SRA has taken consumer protection and transparency a step further, introducing a new Digital Badge. Provided via software which will make sure only regulated firms can display it, the badge will show online visitors which firms are regulated and provide them with a link to information on the protections this provides. Displaying the badge will help firms differentiate themselves from unregulated providers. Use of the badge is initially voluntary but will become a mandatory requirement during 2019.

Challenges of Transparency

Due to the business structures of many law firms, publishing fees is no straightforward matter, leading to some to use a confusing blend of charts, costs schedules, calculators and costs estimates. It is the unknown factors of pursuing legal cases which can alter costs. Russell Conway, senior partner at Oliver Fisher, notes, “It’s the wiggle room issue which is going to be the bellwether as to how successful this project is”.

Price transparency undoubtedly remains vital to consumer protection and satisfaction. However, there are concerns that some consumers may be heavily influenced by price, rather than by skill and expertise. David Kirwan questions if, in a new transparent pricing environment, consumers will truly stop and weigh skills and expertise, rather than revert to low costs. These concerns are not isolated to the UK market, as globally practitioners have expressed concerns about an eventual ‘race to the bottom’. Kirwan notes that “How we as an industry respond, and the way in which we convince consumers that it’s worth potentially paying more to receive a high-quality service, will be crucial if we are to retain the high standards for which this country’s legal sector has become known”.

Complaints Transparency

In considering the question of quality of legal services, greater transparency and public access to disciplinary records is also needed. One of the key findings of the LSB report highlighted that regulators must continue to maintain records of disciplinary sanctions in their official registers. The SRA has issued guidance to help firms clearly understand their obligations under Rule 2.1 of the SRA Transparency Rules to publish complaints. This guidance includes information on complaints handling procedure details, how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman, and details about how and when a complaint can be made to the SRA. Sarah Chambers, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) stated that “Making enforcement data available to consumers is an area that will particularly benefit from consistency in approach”.

Ultimately, providing the public with as much clarity and information as possible when it comes to the legal services they require can benefit not only the consumer, but promote and ensure quality and competence of the industry as a whole. The new transparency rules promulgated by the SRA in December 2018 will improve public access to legal services, ensuring such information on legal service providers is readily available to consumers.


Interested in transparency and enforcement? Contact us and share what is happening in your jurisdiction. There are also opportunities to get involved with the topic at the annual conference. Contact Jim McKay (jamesmckay@lawscot.org.uk) to become involved as a speaker or session moderator.

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An Australian Study on Lawyer Vulnerability & Legal Misconduct

Vulnerability to Legal Misconduct: Qualitative Study of Regulatory Decisions Involving Problem Lawyers and Their Clients

An emerging body of scholarship discusses ‘vulnerability’ as an antecedent of legal misconduct. One conceptualization of vulnerability indicates that an individual has greater susceptibility to risk of harm, and safeguards may protect against that risk of harm. This empirical study adds to the normative research with a qualitative analysis of 72 lawyers with multiple complaints and at least one hearing, paid financial misconduct claim, or striking from the roll (“problem lawyers”) in Victoria, Australia, between 2005 and 2015 through 311 regulatory decisions. We found that problem lawyers were disproportionately likely to be male, over age 45, and work in a sole or small practice. A quarter of these lawyers suffered from health impairments and among the clients harmed, half had cognitive impairments, were older age, or non-native English speakers. These findings underscore the need to better understand vulnerabilities to promote lawyer well-being, protect exposed clients, and reduce lapses in professionalism.

Access Full Report Here

Authors: 

  • Tara Sklar, University of Arizona – James E. Rogers College of Law
  • Jennifer Schulz Moore, University of New South Wales (UNSW) – Faculty of Law
  • Yamna Taouk, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
  • Marie M Bismark, University of Melbourne
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Event: 2018 Legislative Drafting Conference

13-14 September 2018

The Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice is hosting its bi-annual Legislative Drafting Conference – “Charting Legislative Courses in a Complex World”. The Conference will tackle one of the most pervasive challenges in modern legislation: complexity, beginning with its principal drivers in public policy. Why does our world generate legislative complexity? And how can legislation address this complexity intelligibly, coherently and effectively? Conference sessions will also focus on examples of today’s complexity challenges in international trading relationships, cannabis de-criminalization and the interaction of state law with indigenous legal traditions. Other sessions will focus on pragmatic drafting solutions to particular facets of these challenges, such as interjurisdictional coherence, resolving policy blockages, drafting for clients with limited policy-resources and achieving legislative coherence over time. The conference will include a wide range of speakers from Canada, the UK and beyond.

13-14 September 2018

Ottawa, Ontario

Read the Program Here

Register Here

Solicitors Regulation Authority Assessment Organisation Appointed

The SRA has appointed Kaplan as the assessment organisation to develop and run the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

Selected following a rigorous, year-long process, Kaplan provides education, training and assessment across professional services, including in law, financial services, accountancy and banking. It has direct experience of assessment within the legal sector in England and Wales as the provider of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). Kaplan will not provide training for the SQE.

The SRA and Kaplan will work with stakeholders from across the legal and education sectors to develop and test the SQE. Kaplan will then run the SQE on our behalf. They have been appointed for a period of eight years from the introduction of the SQE.

The SQE will provide a single common assessment for all aspiring solicitors. It will be introduced, at the earliest, in September 2020. The costs of the assessment will be determined once the final design is fixed, although we are aiming to provide guidance on indicative costs before then.

Full Press Release Here

Regulating Law Firms from the Inside: The Role of Compliance Officers for Legal Practice in England and Wales

Following the Legal Services Act 2007, which permitted the delivery of legal services through Alternative Business Structures (ABS), the Solicitors Regulation Authority required all regulated legal service firms to appoint Compliance Officers for Legal Practice (COLPs). COLPs are charged with taking reasonable steps to ensure that firms comply with their obligations, which entails interpreting what outcomes‐focused regulation (OFR) requires of the firm. Yet despite their importance, little is known about how compliance roles operate within legal service firms. We addressed this gap through a series of qualitative interviews that explored COLPs’ views of their roles, their attitudes to regulation, in particular to OFR, and to achieving compliance. We found that COLPs are a key regulatory mechanism in the context of firm‐based regulation and OFR and have a critical role to play in protecting and promoting professional values in both ABS and non‐ABS entities.

Full Paper Available Here

Sundeep Aulakh, University of Leeds – Work and Employment Relations & Joan Loughrey, University of Leeds

The Legal Profession in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Since the 1979 Revolution, the clerical regime in Iran has been limiting the legal profession’s autonomy by preventing members of the Iranian Bar Association (IBA) from freely electing their Board of Directors and by establishing a new body of lawyers — legal advisors of the judiciary — to contest the IBA’s professional monopoly. Clerics have even attempted to bring the legal profession under the control of the Ministry of Justice and merge it with the legal advisors. The IBA’s struggle to remain a civil society organisation independent of the judiciary offers a vantage point from which to explore the role of the legal profession in Iranian society and the legal system of the Islamic Republic. Why does the Iranian judiciary oppose an independent legal profession, and why does the profession refuse to capitulate? What are the implications of this ongoing conflict for the legal order of the Islamic Republic, whose political elite consists mainly of Islamic jurists? What are the socio-cultural consequences of undermining the integrity and autonomy of the legal profession? These questions will guide our inquiry.

Download full paper

Citation: Banakar, Reza and Ziaee, Keyvan, The Legal Profession in the Islamic Republic of Iran (April 29, 2018). Lawyers in Society: Thirty Years On. Edited by Abel, Richard et al. Oxford: Hart Publishing, Forthcoming.

Impact evaluation of Solicitors Regulation Authority’s regulatory reform programme

The SRA has delivered significant regulatory reform to the legal market in recent years, key developments have included the introduction of:

  • Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) in 2012
  • Multi-Disciplinary Practices (MDPs) in 2014
  • the reformed separate business rule in 2015

To help the SRA understand the early impact of these changes, including identifying evidence of any benefits or unintended consequences, they commissioned the Centre for Strategy and Evaluation Services (CSES) and Dr Christopher Decker, of Oxford University, to conduct independent research evaluating the impact of these reforms.  The evaluation involved a literature review, focus groups and in-depth interviews with solicitors, law firms and legal service users.

Key findings

The impact of these reforms has been gradual and incremental. Early indications show that users of legal services are beginning to see benefits.

Introducing ABSs and MDPs, and removing restrictions on firm ownership, have allowed new entrants (including foreign law firms, firms owned by professional services firms, local authority owned firms and retail brands) into the market. This has resulted in improved access, choice and quality of service for legal service users and innovation in provision.

There was no evidence to suggest that these reforms have detrimentally impacted, or resulted in a greater risk to, users of legal services.

Licensing of Alternative Business Structures

  • Extending law firm ownership to include non-lawyers has contributed to the improvement of the financial stability of some law firms through attracting, promoting and retaining people with corporate management skills and encouraging external investment.
  • ABSs appear more innovative than other types of law firm. According to a 2015 survey, conducted by Enterprise Research Centre, ABSs are particularly likely to have delivered radical service innovations or organisational innovations in the last three years, compared with non-ABSs.
  • Many ABSs have targeted a mass market, including users of legal services who have lost access to legal aid. This should increase the diversity of people using solicitors, improve access and promote inclusion.
  • Regulatory data shows that ABSs do not pose a greater risk to users of legal services, when compared with other firm structures and business models.

Licensing of Multi-Disciplinary Practices

People, particularly clients of accountancy and other professional service providers, are benefiting from a more integrated service offer by not having to engage a law firm separately.

Where parts of an MDPs business are overseen by other regulators, there is as much, or even more, protection for users of legal services.

Revision of the separate business rule

Revision of the separate business rule has allowed new providers to enter the legal services market without requiring a complex set of waivers to existing rules.

Firms that are connected to a separate business do not pose a greater risk to users of legal services, when compared with other firms.

Download and read the full report