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Law Society response to scope of CMA study into the legal services sector

26 February 2016

The Law Society has responded to the Competition and Markets Authority invitation to comment on the notice on the market study into the supply of legal services in England and Wales.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said:

'The Law Society of England and Wales welcomes the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) review of the legal market. This is an opportunity to ensure that regulation is simpler, better and applies fairly to all legal services providers. Solicitors, who are among the most qualified and trained providers, are currently also among the most regulated. There are many other providers of legal services, who are not as well qualified and trained, who are not regulated. This is misleading for people who buy legal services, because they do not know whether they are protected or not. It is also unfair for solicitors and other highly qualified and trained legal practitioners, who have to compete with unregulated providers. This means that the market does not operate on a fair playing field.

'The CMA study will investigate areas of the legal sector including will writing, employment advice and advice provided to the Small and Medium Enterprise sector. We make clear to the CMA that this is only a small part of the types of services that solicitors provide. It is important to consider what the unintended consequences of change could be if they are made on the basis of limited information.

'The scope of the CMA study is based in part on the premise that too much regulation stifles competition and limits consumers’ access to legal services. The Law Society believes that regulation for solicitors could be much simpler. We would like to see minimum regulatory rules applied consistently to all legal services. Regulatory rules are very different from professional standards and the solicitors’ profession prides itself on delivering a high standard of quality service for all clients. We are therefore calling for professional standards to be separated from regulatory rules. Professional standards should be owned and driven by the professionals: the people who know what good looks like and deliver this to their clients every day.

'Currently there are numerous legal services regulators, despite the fact that many providers in the market are unregulated. There are opportunities to reduce costs if the regulators are consolidated, leaving the professional bodies to develop professional standards, set entry into the profession and award the professional title. Critically, this also ensures that the legal profession will remain independent of the state, allowing it to uphold the rule of law. Regulation would also be independent of the profession, ensuring consumer confidence.

'The CMA’s review, alongside the government’s consultation on separating the regulators from their legal professional bodies, is an opportunity to make regulation simpler and better. To this end it is crucial that professional standards, entry into the profession and award of the professional title of solicitor rests with the solicitors’ profession itself. Regulation should focus on guaranteeing minimum standards across the whole market for legal services. The culture of high professional standards and pride in the solicitor profession will continue to improve the quality and choice in legal services which clients value.'