The most effective driver of quality, innovative and sustainable legal services is the market itself, the Law Society said today as it responded to comments from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: 'The legal services market is continuously evolving to meet the needs of clients ever more effectively. It is disappointing that nearly a decade on from the Legal Services Act, when the SRA became operationally independent, it is still critiquing the regulatory framework set out by Parliament and overseen by the Legal Services Board. Reforms currently proposed by the SRA on changing the SRA handbook and accounts rules, far from strengthening the market, risk weakening client protection and damaging the reputation of the solicitor profession both at home and abroad.
'The solicitors' regulatory and professional bodies are operationally independent and there is no call from the professions or consumers to change this. The Law Society undertakes the vital role of representing, promoting and supporting the solicitor profession, with additional responsibilities to protect the public interest, support access to justice, individual rights and freedoms, and to uphold the rule of law. This role is considered to be so important that it is enshrined in legislation.
'The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), in its drive to safeguard a well-functioning legal services market, is not planning to recommend a formal market investigation into the legal sector, nor does it in its interim report recommend regulatory reform, as the CMA shares our concern about the 'risks with a wholesale change to a regulatory framework''.
Catherine Dixon continued: 'Stability and certainty of regulation is vital to the healthy and continuous functioning of the legal services markets. The legal sector contributes £25.7bn to the UK economy, including £3.6bn in exports. During a period of unprecedented change for Britain, it is vital that we maintain confidence in all our markets and especially the legal market given its significance to the economy and jobs. As in any complex ecosystem, the balance can be easily disrupted. Where possible, solutions driven by the market are preferable to those imposed by regulation that may have unintended adverse consequences.
'Well functioning legal markets are in the best interests of clients and promote a strong and vibrant legal sector - they also underpin fair competition and access to legal services. Any structural changes should only be imposed if market solutions have been exhausted, and the costs and benefits of proposals on consumers and the profession must be fully and transparently assessed.'
On providing more information for clients on price and services, Catherine Dixon said: 'We support the objective of providing ever more useful information for clients on price and quality of legal services. However, we would stress that such information does have to be helpful in enabling clients to make informed choices about the services they buy. Legal services can vary widely, and can often be complex. Providing information such as average price will not enable clients to make meaningful choices. We are therefore working together with the profession to support best practice and we will continue to support innovation that will help clients make informed choices about the legal services they buy and also support a strong and vibrant legal profession.'
Press office contact: Harriet Beaumont | firstname.lastname@example.org | 0207 320 5830
About the Law Society
The Law Society of England and Wales is the independent professional body, established for solicitors in 1825, that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.