Legal Services Board ongoing competence call for evidence

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has highlighted that consumers should be able to trust that legal professionals have the necessary and up-to-date skills, knowledge and attributes to provide good quality legal services.

It’s carrying out a project on legal professionals' ongoing competence intended to:

  • protect and promote the public interest and the interest of consumers
  • encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession
  • promote and maintain adherence to the professional principles

The LSB will hold pre-consultation workshops in mid-2021 and formally consult in the second half of 2021.

Below, we’ve summarised the key themes of the call for evidence.

Key themes

Consumer experience of legal services

  • Consumers assume legal professionals are and remain competent and that there are robust checks in place to ensure that
  • Some support for sector-wide competence checks
  • Support for targeted competence checks because there is evidence of an increased risk of harm to consumers in some areas
  • Could be value in developing a shared core competency framework for all legal professionals – the LSB notes that the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board have ones specific to their professions
  • Potential for gathering customer feedback

Areas of increased risk for consumers

  • Concerns have been identified about the quality of some legal services that may warrant targeted intervention
  • Consumers have different abilities to make informed decisions about the quality of the services they receive
  • Some consumers are at an increased risk of poor legal services and potentially in greater need of protection from harm, particularly:
    • immigration and asylum
    • some criminal advocacy
    • youth courts
    • coroner’s courts
  • Conveyancing is another area where there is a high volume of complaints about poor quality legal services, although there is less risk of significant harm

Existing competence assurance tools used in the sector

  • Legal regulators have robust measures in place to ensure that legal professionals are competent when entering the profession
  • There are fewer measures for checking competence post-qualification – the LSB notes this is unusual compared with other sectors
  • Regulators do not proactively or routinely gather and record intelligence about the competence of individuals and firms and have limited recourse available when concerns arise, particularly to provide remedial support
  • Existing accreditation schemes, peer reviews and feedback models tend to be applied to only a small part of the profession

Potential new approaches to ongoing competence

The LSB noted that any new approaches must consider the need for a careful balance of costs (and regulatory burden) and benefits.

The range of options identified by the LSB includes:

  • developing a shared core competency framework that sets out the skills and knowledge all legal professionals should have
  • gathering feedback from multiple sources (such as clients, supervisors and peers) and using this to inform legal professionals' learning needs
  • undertaking spot checks or file reviews to test a legal professional's practice
  • using feedback and other intelligence (such as reports from judges or spot checks) to identify specific competence concerns and addressing these through remediation (for example, training or supervision) as well as to inform assessments about the prevalence of competence concerns in different areas
  • making improvements to existing CPD models, including better auditing and use of reflective practice
  • requiring further training in some practice areas, such as those where there has been an identified risk to consumers
  • introducing periodic reaccreditation/revalidation requirements

LSB conclusions

The LSB has concluded that there’s a strong rationale to take its work forward in this area, noting a clear misalignment between the current provision in the sector and what the public expects.

The LSB would like to see a renewed focus from the legal regulators on ensuring ongoing competence, with consideration of targeted intervention by regulators where there are concerns about consumers who are at an increased risk of harm.

The LSB intends to set clear and consistent expectations for all legal regulators to ensure the ongoing competence of legal professionals, which the regulators will be required to take into account in setting appropriate requirements for their own regulated communities.

In general, this may be to:

  • set out the standards of competence that legal professionals should meet at the point of entry and throughout their careers; and
  • have mechanisms in place to
    • identify legal professionals who are failing to meet those standards
    • identify areas of increased risk to consumers
    • respond when legal professionals fall short of the standards of competence
    • provide appropriate protection when there is an increased risk of harm to consumers

The LSB will explore the merits of the following:

  • the potential for a shared core competency framework
  • mechanisms for collecting feedback
  • encouraging better use of reflective practice
  • remediation and specialist training

Next steps

The LSB will be using the LSB Public Panel to inform their work. This is a standing group of members of the public who the LSB engage with to inform policy development.

The LSB has also commissioned a report into legal services in other jurisdictions following our suggestion that they look into this.

The results of these pieces of work will be published in the first half of 2021.

Read the call for evidence on the LSB website

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