New regulations for ensuring quality in the delivery of legal services should be flexible enough to promote innovation and change, according to the Law Society of England and Wales. In its response to Approaches to Quality, a consultation by UK legal reforms body the Legal Services Board (LSB), the Society stressed the benefits of outcomes-focused regulation – an approach that encourages providers to implement practical procedures, rather than dry rules, to ensure that consumers have satisfying experiences.
Law firms, said the Society, ‘need to be free to develop new ways of providing legal services that meet the needs of the market and consumers’. In order to do that, they should not be ‘fettered by unnecessary regulation or inappropriate burdens’. It stressed: ‘There is a real danger that clumsy requirements to ensure quality will inhibit this growth.’
To illustrate its point, the organisation criticised the stance of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which has attacked arrangements proposed for the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) – a framework scheduled for implementation in 2013. Last month, the CBA opposed a measure in the scheme that would allow qualifying solicitors to stand before judges as plea-only advocates (POAs) – a reform which suggests that various stages of court cases could be parcelled off among solicitors with relevant competencies. In the Society’s view, the CBA has a ‘clear vested interest’ in opposing the measure, and consumers ‘may well prefer that some hearings should be conducted by a competent solicitor rather than a barrister who – given the way the Bar practises – may very well not be available to conduct the trial’.
‘We also believe that it is important that regulators should bear in mind the market for particular services,’ added the Society, ‘particularly where – as in publicly funded work – the fees are low. The burdens on lawyers there should be no higher than are required to achieve a competent standard of service.’ Above all, the organisation stressed, regulators needed to ‘seek evidence [on] the way in which the market provides the services, and then take a view on the most proportionate way of addressing any problem about the quality of the work undertaken’.
In a separate response, the Bar Standards Board appeared to adopt a more moderate position than its associates in the CBA, backing outcomes-focused regulation and accepting the need for legal services to evolve. A clear regulatory framework supported by guidance, it said, ‘provides sufficient flexibility for barristers, Chambers and entities to be creative and innovative, and recognises that there are different business models that can be operated which result in the same outcomes’. Any prescriptive regulation, it added, ‘must be evidenced based and proven to be necessary in the context of the regulatory objectives’.
For previous NewLegal Review coverage of regulation in the UK legal services sector, click here, here and here
‘Clumsy’ stipulations for mitigating risk could scupper development of the UK legal services sector, says major organisation