Legal Services Board business plan 2020/21 consultation – Law Society response

The proposals

Under the draft business plan for 2020/21 the Legal Services Board (LSB) proposes to deliver significant areas of work such as:

Rule change approval process review

A review of the rule change approval process aims to achieve a greater consistency in the quality of applications from frontline regulators.

The LSB raised concerns with regulators about the poor quality of some rule change applications received over the past twelve months, with some applications being incomplete, lacking supportive evidence and rationale.

Performance assessments of frontline regulators

Regulatory performance assessments of frontline regulators which will include monitoring the regulators’ performance against the LSB’s revised performance framework, carrying out two risk-based performance reviews of specific regulators and a thematic review of the LSB’s led standards focusing on public transparency and accountability.

Oversight of OLC

Oversight of the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), focusing in particular on ensuring the Legal Ombudsman maximises its role to extract and disseminate intelligence and learning to the professions with a view to raising standards and preventing disputes.

PCF approval process review

A review of practising certificate fee (PCF) approval process, including a targeted review of non-regulatory permitted purposes set out under section 51 of the Legal Services Act.

Professional competence

Continuing work on professional competence with a call for evidence on whether the current approaches to assuring competence are sufficient, and whether there are any gaps which need addressing.

Revised internal governance rules

Implementing the revised Internal Governance Rules (IGRs) while supporting approved regulators and regulatory bodies during the transition period, which ends on 23 July 2020.

The LSB will also conduct a review of compliance certificates submitted by each approved regulator.

Public legal education

Enhancing public legal education (PLE) by improving understanding of the PLE landscape, collaborating with other organisations, including the Solicitor General’s Committee.

The LSB also plans to consult on the use of any formal regulatory levers to ensure better promotion of PLE by regulators.

Approaches to enforcement

Exploring future approaches to enforcement by considering approaches used in other sectors (health and social care) or jurisdictions.

Lawtech

Promoting technology to increase access to legal services by publishing papers offering different perspectives on lawtech regulation, promoting wider use of regulatory sandboxes or similar initiatives to facilitate innovation, establishing an expert reference group for regulators to consider and determine approaches to technology challenges.

Legal needs survey

Conducting the legal needs survey of small businesses, and publishing briefings on the findings of the 2019 Legal Needs Survey which was carried out in partnership with the Law Society.

Regulatory consequences of Brexit

Responding to the regulatory consequences of EU exit and contributing to the process of adapting regulatory arrangements in light of the final agreements that are made as the UK leaves the EU.

CMA legal services market study

Engaging with the CMA review of progress on its legal services market study, which will include monitoring the progress of improving transparency by regulators, with a focus around transparency on the service quality.

Our views

We're broadly supportive of the proposed workplan.

However, we urge the LSB to focus the vast majority of its resources on discharging its core statutory function laid out under the Legal Services Act (LSA) 2007 and hold frontline regulators to account to ensure that high standards of regulation are maintained, rather than diverting resources to work which is outside of its core regulatory remit.

The LSB’s oversight function is particularly important given significant regulatory changes, such as the:

  • price and service transparency rules
  • new Solicitors Standards and Regulations (STARs)
  • proposed Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)
  • new Money Laundering Directive

Regulatory change has an unsettling impact not only on the regulated professions, but also on clients and the public.

The LSB should focus on ensuring that high professional standards are maintained, so clients and the public continue to have trust in the profession, frontline regulators, and the legal system.

It's vital that the LSB:

  • properly scrutinises frontline regulators’ performance in delivery of the regulatory changes
  • monitors the impact on clients and the profession, and
  • evaluates outcomes

The LSB should also show leadership in ensuring that regulation is proportionate and underpinned by a robust cost benefit analysis.

Any specific problems within the legal sector need to be properly evidenced, with workable solutions proposed which are rigorously impact assessed, before new regulatory arrangements are introduced.

Next steps

The consultation closed on 14 February 2020.

The LSB will be publishing its new business plan after analysing responses from stakeholders.

Read the consultation on the LSB's website

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