Reform or Recovery?: The Law Society says legal reform should be paused

July 6, 2020

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

The Law Society and academics from University College London (UCL) have suggested that any reform of the legal services regulation should be paused, whilst the legal profession tries to recover from the effects of the current global pandemic.

What does this mean?

UCL launched an independent review of legal services regulation, led by Professor Stephen Mayson, which culminated in the publication of a report in June 2020, setting out proposals for future regulation. The report concludes that the legislative framework under the Legal Services Act 2007 is outdated and not sustainable in the long-term. A number of long and short-term recommendations are suggested. These include overhauling the existing regulatory objectives (such as promotion of competition, safeguards for consumers, the public interest, promotion of a stronger legal profession) and replacing them with one broad definition: the promotion and protection of public interest. Other recommendations include a single independent sector wide regulator. Mayson also concludes that  the emergence and rapid development of the LawTech industry is beyond the reach of the current regulatory framework. 

The Law Society’s president, Simon Davis, is amongst those that have given a critical response to the report and in particular to passing regulatory reform off the back of the pandemic, let alone in the midst of Brexit.

What's the big picture effect?

10-15 years after reforms defined by the 2008 financial crisis and issues of professional misconduct, the regulatory environment has evolved. A common criticism of these changes today is that they have done almost nothing to improve access to justice. In contrast, we can see the collapse of access to justice for the poor and middle-class just by looking at the ever increasing ratio of represented-to-self-represented litigants; which in some sectors might slowly be creeping up to 50:50. 

UCL suggests that the regulatory framework, “while not perfect, currently serves its purpose”. LawTech encompasses a range of technologies that support the traditional legal services such as case management software and contract review tools. The current system enables the use of this technology through structures that require accountability and professional standards, without being overly complex and costly. Simon Davis, said that in the current climate, there needs to be more support, rather than the added burden of regulatory upheaval and uncertainty: “the immediate focus… 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”.  As the legal sector fights financial uncertainty, being forced to consider and review new regulations will be far from helpful. This will be costly in terms of time, hampering their ability to complete all the work that has backlogged due to COVID-19. 

Public sentiment now is unlike the 2000’s, and reformation of the justice system is certainly critical for improving access to justice. But, also present now, that wasn’t 10 years ago, is an entire generation of over-indebted, underemployed young lawyers, who are eager to find work and financial stability within the legal profession. Rebuilding the legal profession to a point where it can stand on its own two feet again, might be the first port of call.

Report written by Josie Laidman

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