Time for the sector and society to recover, not to reorganise legal services
Recovery, not more regulatory reform, should be at the heart of our efforts in the wake of COVID-19 when it comes to legal services, the Law Society of England and Wales said today in response to the publication of the Mayson report.
“Professor Mayson’s report undoubtedly is an interesting contribution to the debate about how to most effectively regulate the legal services sector,” said Law Society president Simon Davis.
“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.”
Notes to editors
There is already scope under the current framework to address areas where there is evidence of potential risk to consumers and the public. For example, the current list of reserved activities could be extended to other high-risk areas currently unregulated such as will-writing, estate administration and lasting powers of attorney.
The report quotes the YouGov Legal Needs survey saying that “60% of respondents had a legal issue in the past four years. Two-thirds of them had received help but only half of them received it from a regulated lawyer” and assumes that this exposes consumers to risks.
However, the same survey shows that most people take a rational decision to resolve minor legal issues – like faulty goods, parking fines or similar– without the need for professional advice, but for more serious legal problems they seek advice from solicitors and other regulated professions.
The Mayson report undermines the importance of public legal education. The YouGov Legal Needs Survey demonstrates that there are many people who do not understand how and when they should take legal advice from a qualified solicitor or other regulated professional.
Making people aware of how to recognise legal issues and from whom to seek help, could help people seek advice from a regulated professional at the right time in order to prevent legal problems from escalating and get the best result for all concerned. This would increase people’s access to justice and reduce unmet legal demand.
Key elements of the current framework such as professional titles underpin our ability to export legal services across the world and maintain England and Wales’ position as a global legal centre.
New research has shown that many firms believe they may have to close their doors in the next six months as result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Small law firms are playing a crucial role in providing advice to vulnerable people struggling with stressful legal issues during these difficult times – yet cash flow pressures and reduced fee income has put many at risk of collapse. There is an issue with unmet legal need, which needs to be addressed through promoting PLE and proper legal aid funding.
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