Marzena Lipman, regulatory policy adviser at the Law Society, gives a brief summary of the Legal Services Board (LSB)’s Business Plan 2020-21 proposals and our response.
The LSB consulted on its Business Plan 2020-21 indicating it wants to increase its sector leadership role by being more outspoken about issues facing the legal sector, more effective engagement with stakeholders, and taking a wider perspective on the legal services regulation.
This new approach is notable in the LSB’s proposal to move away from a strategy for the LSB towards an overall strategy for the legal sector.
The LSB intends to develop the strategy in the course of this year in collaboration with stakeholders, with two events planned in spring and summer.
To inform this work, the LSB plans to publish a ‘state of the nation’ paper assessing the ten years of regulation under the current Legal Services Act 2007.
The paper is likely to feed into the Competition and Markets Authority review of progress in implementing recommendations from the 2016 legal market study, due later this year.
The LSB will contribute to the review by reporting on progress made by regulators in improving transparency and conducting research that will track changes in prices quoted by providers, price dispersion and current market approaches to information transparency.
Under its business plan, the LSB also proposes to deliver other significant areas of work which are likely to impact directly or indirectly on the profession.
For example, the LSB will conduct a thematic review of the effectiveness of the continuing competence regime and has launched a call for evidence with a consultation due on 15 May.
Aside from day-to-day competence, the LSB will consider how to assure long-term competence throughout practitioners’ careers. It will be looking at models developed in other professional services sectors, such as healthcare and teaching.
We’ll be responding to the consultation and invite our members to send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org to help us shape our position.
The LSB will also review the rule change approval process with the aim to deliver a greater consistency in the quality of applications from frontline regulators.
We raised concerns with the LSB on a number of occasions about a lack of supportive evidence and impact assessments in the rule change applications such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) handbook and switching regulators.
We therefore welcome this strand of work.
Over the course of this business plan, the LSB will be considering a final application from the SRA in relation to the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
Hence in our response we said it is critical that the LSB requires frontline regulators to improve quality of their rule change applications and supporting evidence.
The LSB’s business plan gives a greater focus on enhancing public legal education (PLE).
The recent Legal Needs Survey commissioned jointly by the Law Society and the LSB shows 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.
In parallel to gathering evidence on the PLE landscape, collaborating with other organisations, including the Solicitor General’s Committee, to improve the current provisions, the LSB will consult on the use of any formal regulatory levers to be used to ensure better promotion of PLE by regulators.
While we support greater PLE, we believe that the sort of broad PLE that is necessary to achieve this outcome is not best achieved through regulation of the profession.
Given the profession’s lack of access and capacity to deliver this broad understanding to the public, this is more the purview of the state, with solicitors contributing appropriately.
The LSB will also continue its work on innovation and technology initiated in 2018, seen as a vehicle to increasing access to justice.
One option being explored is to set up an expert reference group for regulators to consider and determine approaches to technology challenges, alongside qualitative research on the ethical dimensions of lawtech.
Other areas of work include implementing the revised Internal Governance Rules (IGRs) and a review of practising certificate fee (PCF) approval process.
The LSB will support approved regulators and regulatory bodies in implementing the revised IGRs during the transition period, which ends on 23 July 2020.
The LSB will conduct a review of compliance certificates submitted by each approved regulator, including the Law Society.
The review of PCF will focus on a targeted review of non-regulatory permitted purposes set out under section 51 of the Legal Services Act. Some of these activities are carried out by frontline regulators and some by professional bodies (‘approved regulators’).
The purpose of the review is to give the LSB more clarity on whether the activities categorised by ‘approved regulators’ as permitted purposes are appropriate.
We are broadly supportive of the proposed workplan, but want the LSB to focus more of its resources on its oversight function of holding frontline regulator.
This is particularly important given significant regulatory changes, such as the transparency rules, the new Solicitors Standards and Regulations (STARs), the proposed Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), and 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 has a vital role to play in 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.