Solicitors urged to embrace CMA review of legal services

Topics: Law Society activity,Regulation and compliance

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Solicitors should embrace the opportunity to show consumers what sets them apart from other legal advisers, the Law Society said in response to another review of the sector by an antitrust watchdog.

The Competition and Markets Authority last week announced that it will examine ‘long-standing concerns’ about the affordability of civil legal services and standards of service for both consumers and small businesses. A planned government consultation on removing barriers to market entry appears set to go ahead in parallel.

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The CMA study will ask if clients are making informed purchasing decisions and if they have adequate protection when something goes wrong. Regulation will also be on the agenda.

The development has echoes of a review carried out by CMA predecessor the Office of Fair Trading, which ultimately spawned the market reforms of the 2007 Legal Services Act.

The Society said the new study gives the solicitors’ profession a chance to differentiate itself from non-regulated providers and increase consumer confidence.

Chief executive Catherine Dixon said: ‘Moving away from overly burdensome regulation, that does not service the public or meet business need, by placing greater reliance on solicitors taking responsibility for and driving their own professional standards is key.

‘There is also an opportunity to ensure that the public and businesses are informed that if they do purchase from an unregulated provider they will get less protection. Solicitors are trained, qualified, regulated, required to carry insurance and have professional standards.’

Gary Yantin, founder of the HighStreetLawyer network, said: ‘This probe is a great potential opportunity for the profession, especially smaller law firms, to showcase what they are doing well or to adapt well ahead of time to take advantage of the possible outcomes.’

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice is preparing a consultation on regulation originally announced by the Treasury, with the aim of making it easier for businesses such as supermarkets and estate agents to offer legal services such as conveyancing, probate and litigation.

The government plans to consult by spring on removing barriers to entry for ABSs and making regulators independent of representative bodies.

It remains unclear what, if any, impact the CMA study will have on that work. The watchdog will decide within six months whether it intends to refer the market for a more in-depth investigation, and a report must be published within 12 months setting out findings and actions it proposes to take.

Rachel Merelie, senior director of delivery and sector regulation at the cartel watchdog, said: ‘We would be concerned if customers are not getting a good deal, either because they do not know what to expect when purchasing a legal service, or because they are not seeking appropriate legal support in the first place.’

The CMA said recent surveys showed one in 10 users of legal services in England and Wales reported that the overall service and advice provided was poor value for money. Just 13% said they viewed lawyers as cost-effective, it added.

Readers' comments (17)

  • What is the point of moving away from regulation, if the whole legal sector resembles the Wild West, with well resourced, but ethics free legal services Cowboys, exploit a vulnerable public.

    The constant reference to "consumers" says it all in terms of how low the standing of solicitors has fallen.

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  • 'Chief executive Catherine Dixon said: ‘Moving away from overly burdensome regulation, that does not service......'

    Shocking Grammar!

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  • 'The Society said the new study gives the solicitors’ profession a chance to differentiate itself from non-regulated providers and increase consumer confidence'.

    How, I have no idea how. Do you think the average Joe is really going to care.

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  • What would help would be if the terms "lawyer" and "legal adviser" were defined in statute so that only regulated, insured people could adopt those terms to describe what they do. This might help the public identify those who are regulated (professional) and those who aren't (amateurs). Also the term "professional" should only be allowed to be used by those who are regulated and who pay professional indemnity insurance cover.
    The alternative is to create a system whereby everyone who offers legal services of any type is regulated by and insured through CILEX, TLS/SRA or the Bar Council.

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  • Joe public has a legal problem/need. They always assume that they need a Solicitor to resolve a legal problem. They go to ABS LTD as they are the cheapest and they assume that a Solicitor will deal with their transaction. The transaction goes wrong and then Joe public says "them bloody Solicitors screwed me over with my **** transaction" even though ABS are not necessarily Solicitors. Their poor service will reflects bad on the profession (as will the good).

    In market terms...the "Solicitors Brand" built over hundreds of years could be impacted (whether bad or good) by non Solicitors as those non-solicitors are now able to do a certain amount of what was previously a regulated legal service.

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  • "Moving away from overly burdensome regulation, that does not service the public or meet business need, by placing greater reliance on solicitors taking responsibility for and driving their own professional standards is key."

    It seems that sentence construction is not a skill to be expected of solicitors.

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  • Let us hope that the Competition and Markets Authority give solicitors an adequate opportunity to participate in discussions relating to perceived levels of client service.

    The CMA's survey found that "..one in 10 users of legal services in England and Wales reported that the overall service and advice provided was poor value for money." Presumably if 'one in ten' expressed dissatisfaction, 90% were either reasonably or very pleased with the service received? It would be useful to know the proportion of complaints that related to both regulated and non-regulated services.

    It was reported last week that the Legal Ombudsman service was cutting its budget because the level of complaints being made about solicitors' services is reducing.

    The CMA must ensure that its approach to the issues raised is an objective one for any conclusions it arrives at to be meaningful.

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  • One wonders how much this review will cost, and how long it will take ? From previous reviews - timely, and costly....eg; Credit Hire market.

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  • I feel like the whole world has gone insane. Wasn't the whole reason for the financial crash in 2008 a lack of regulation and ethics? Why are people seriously suggesting that deregulating legal services is a good idea?

    I need to become a hermit, I realise I just hate people.

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  • It is a matter of the utmost concern to me, as a harassed, hardworking but still committed solicitor, working tirelessly at the coal face of legal services, that the Law Society appears to be complicit in the profession’s own decline!

    We had the Legal Services Act, which despite the concerns of many, was duly passed into law, and thereby in effect corrupted the ethical core at the heart of what it is to be a lawyer.

    Now following countless attacks on the many different aspects of how solicitors practise, we now have a further attack, this time in terms of changing the matrix of law, so that solicitors will with the passage of time increasingly wander round the ruined landscape of UK legal services, like battered survivors of some post-deregulation apocalypse.

    As somebody has already commented, we don’t enhance the standing of solicitors by changing the whole legal landscape, so that everybody in the law just sells rather than practises law.

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