Today, Thursday 11th June 2020, Professor Stephen Mayson, Honorary Professor of Law at the University College of London (UCL) has released an independent review entitled ‘Reforming Legal Services: Regulation beyond the echo chambers‘.
Introducing the report on his website, Professor Mayson wrote:
“In 2016, the Competition & Markets Authority completed its market study and concluded that the legal services sector is not working well for individual consumers and small businesses, and that the current regulatory framework under the Legal Services Act 2007 is not sustainable in the long run. One of its recommendations was that the government should undertake a review of the current regulatory framework.
“In light of Brexit, the Ministry understandably did not feel able at the time to commit to a formal review. In July 2018, I therefore volunteered to undertake the Independent Review on a pro bono basis under the auspices of the Centre for Ethics & Law, in the Faculty of Laws at University College London.
“The report sets out my findings, conclusions and recommendations. It reflects meetings with more than 340 interested parties. These were with current and former regulators in the legal sector and beyond, and professional bodies (including some from outside England & Wales), but also included consumers and consumer bodies, unregulated providers and their representative bodies, senior judges, practitioners and in-house lawyers, academics, and Parliamentarians.”
Professor Mayson outlines that some of the reforms needed may not be possible due to the framework of the Legal Services Act 2007.
Reforms regarding regulation of legally qualified and unqualified individuals, bundling services together and having associated costs which could increase depending on the complexity of the issues are just some of the long-term proposals highlighted in the report.
Professor Mayson added:
“The proposals would, however, see the ‘ownership’ and award professional titles remaining with the established professions and professional bodies, though subject to requirements set by the single regulator and no ability to impose regulatory requirements of their own. This would not prevent professions from maintaining and promoting higher professional standards than those required by the regulatory minimum where they believe that it is in their best interests to do so.
“A more inclusive approach to regulation would also offer the prospect of investigation and redress for all individual consumers and small businesses who have unresolved complaints or concerns about their provider of legal services. Interestingly, many people already assume that all providers of legal services are in some way regulated and that relevant protection is available. Unfortunately, they are mistaken.”
With regards to quick wins in the short-term, Professor Mayson highlighted the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has indeed changed the way legal services work, in a bid to provide the best service possible.
“Finally, while the principal focus of the report is on longer-term reform of the regulatory framework, recent events have in my view accelerated the need for change. Covid-19 has transformed the way we live, work, relate to each other, and travel. Its effects have been immediate and profound, but will also be with us for some time.
“This has led to changes in legal needs. We have seen an increase in writing wills, the unfortunate and unexpected need to administer the estates of those whose lives have been lost to the disease, an increase in relationship issues and domestic abuse for those forced to live in lockdown, the loss of jobs and businesses, and so on.”
The Law Society has responded to the Report.
Simon Davis, President of the Law Society said:
“Professor Mayson’s report undoubtedly is an interesting contribution to the debate about how to most effectively regulate the legal services sector.
“However the immediate focus of policy makers should be thinking about how to make better use of the current regulatory framework, deliver effective public legal education, resource legal aid properly and ensure the survival of the vulnerable parts of legal services that do so much to support people in difficult circumstances and to underpin a whole range of transactions, business and personal.
“Rather than diverting time and resource to analysing our regulatory frameworks, policy makers’ efforts should be directed at:
Funding legal aid properly to ensure that everyone – not just the well-resourced – can access justice;
Restoring trust in the crumbling criminal justice system; and
Getting the court system and the economy up and running, ensuring that well-run firms do not go under as a result of Covid-19 – 71% of high-street firms are currently under threat.”
Simon Davis added:
“In the current climate, legal services firms need more support, not the added burdens of a regulatory upheaval and uncertainty. Those that will be hit hardest are the smaller firms, which would have knock-on effects for the higher proportions of BAME partners, staff and suppliers at such firms, as well as the vulnerable clients they support.
“Professor Mayson’s recommendations on lawtech should be carefully considered. Lawtech encompasses a broad swathe of technologies that support traditional legal services, such as case management software, contract review tools and platforms for electronic signatures. These tools have been invaluable for practitioners to operate effectively during lockdown. Any attempts to regulate their use could stifle innovation and affect the sector’s competitiveness internationally.”