Legal Services Board strategy and business plan 2021-22 – Law Society response

The proposals

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has proposed a new strategy for the whole legal sector, and consulted on the proposals from 9 December 2020 and 5 February 2021.

The LSB’s strategy is informed by its State of Legal Services 2020 report and takes into account the CMA’s 2020 progress review, which recommended more enhanced transparency measures and closing consumer protection gaps in relation to unregulated providers.

The consultation sets out a 10-year strategic direction for the legal sector, and proposes key priority areas for 2021-24 under nine challenges, which include:

  • lowering unmet legal need across large parts of society
  • dismantling barriers to a diverse and inclusive profession at all levels
  • closing gaps in consumer protection
  • supporting responsible use of technology that commands public trust

As part of the consultation, the LSB sought views on its business plan for 2021-22 and proposes work on:

  • diversity and inclusion which will include work on building diversity and inclusion into the performance assessment framework of regulators, and collaborating with others on design and evaluation of interventions, collation and use of data, and the lived experience of legal professionals
  • consumer engagement with policy statement expected on quality indicators and implementation of recommendations from the CMA 2020 progress review
  • technology and innovation with further research with the LSB’s Public Panel on public attitudes to technological innovation; and convening the debate on how open and accessible data can be embedded across the sector
  • ongoing competence with a consultation on potential policy options for appropriate framework for continuing assurance of professional competence
  • regulatory performance, statutory decisions and oversight of frontline regulators, the Office for Legal Complaints and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
  • scope of regulation which aims to build a better understanding of the unregulated sector through desk based research, and will inform possible work led by government on expanding redress. The LSB’s view is that consumers would benefit from expanding the Legal Ombudsman’s remit to unregulated providers. The LSB is also seeking views on whether to undertake a review of reserved activities. The LSB’s initial view is that the arguments against a review outweigh the benefits at this stage
  • legal expenses insurance to explore whether and how legal expenses insurance can help to reduce unmet legal need by convening discussions/debate
  • simple legal products which will explore jointly with the government the potential for developing a suite of easy to understand and easy to compare products that meet basic legal needs

Our view

We welcome the strategy and are pleased to see that its three strategic themes; fairer outcomes, stronger confidence and better services, broadly align with the priorities we outlined in our earlier submission.

Like the LSB, we’re committed to ensuring that legal services meet society’s needs and we work tirelessly with our members to:

  • promote access to justice
  • uphold the rule of law
  • maintain high professional standards
  • reduce barriers to diversity and inclusion
  • promote innovation and technology in the sector

The LSB is developing its strategy at a time of crisis in the justice system and the legal services sector.

The social and economic impact of the pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and many years of severe under-funding of the justice system, are having a significant impact on the profession, clients and wider public confidence.

In light of this, we encourage the LSB to focus its strategy on the key priorities to aid recovery of the sector post-pandemic, such as:

  • promotion of access to justice
  • ensuring regulatory certainty and stability and the maintenance of public protections
  • promoting innovation and diversity in the professions

The LSB is proposing a strategy for the whole sector and its success will rely on the collective efforts and actions of many stakeholders. The professions, and, in particular solicitors, will play a pivotal role in delivery of this strategy.

For the strategy to have its desired impact, the LSB will need to understand the perspectives and experience of the professions.

We’re particularly keen to work closely with the LSB and others to progress diversity and inclusion in the profession and to enhance access to justice through the use of technology and innovation in the legal sector.

We have significant ongoing work programmes in these areas and the insight of our members will be essential to making sustainable changes across the sector.

Given that it is a strategy for the whole sector, the LSB should not only encourage coordinated working, but also ensure that all stakeholders are clear about their respective roles to avoid duplication. It will be vital that the LSB provides clarity on where its role begins and ends, especially its core role in relation to frontline regulators.

While we broadly welcome the strategy, we think it could better address the challenges the sector is likely to face in years ahead if it were to:

  • focus on the biggest challenges: such as access to justice, diverse and inclusive profession, high quality legal services and strong ethics, innovation and use of technology
  • strike a better balance across the regulatory objectives, by doing more to encourage an independent, strong and effective legal profession and to protect and promote the public interest, vital at the time of economic and social upheaval, and extremely challenging operating environment
  • adhere to the LSB’s core statutory remit by doing more to oversee regulators’ performance and ensure high professional standards, clearly articulating how its statutory functions can add value in the delivery of strategy outcomes to avoid duplication
  • focus on impact with the LSB identifying impact measures against which it can be held to account
  • be based on a solid understanding of context, with more in-depth horizon scanning of the current issues and pressures facing the sector, and wider environmental, economic and political challenges (for example, climate change, globalisation, the UK withdrawal from the EU) which will impact directly on the sector and the profession over the longer term

What this means for solicitors

The way the LSB regulates, in its capacity as an oversight regulator, will impact on the profession and the whole sector.

For the strategy to have its desired impact, the LSB will need to be cognisant of the perspectives and experience of the professions.

Next steps

The consultation closed on 5 February 2021.

The LSB will consider responses to the consultation from all stakeholders before deciding on how to proceed.

Read the consultation on the LSB website