Of course the unregulated legal sector is cheaper. That’s why it’s such a danger to clients.
Ok, so here’s the plan. I’m going to set up as a dentist. There’s decent money in it and the potential market is huge: all I need to do is buy a white coat, get a job lot of that mouthwash stuff and away we go.
The only enamel on my horizon is the pesky General Dental Council, what with its standards, barriers to entry and general preference for dentists having the faintest clue what they’re doing.
What I really need is the Legal Services Board, a cheerleader for the little (unregulated) man, ambivalent about standards but obsessed with seeing more of the country getting its teeth fixed (or at least treated).
For this, dear readers, is the ultimate conundrum: a super-regulator that speaks up for the unregulated, a body tasked with protecting consumers that thinks nothing of sending them out without protection, an organisation paid for by solicitors that seems to be on an almost relentless mission to undermine them.
This week’s ‘research’ (we’ll come back to that) on the unregulated community was Peak LSB. The unregulated community was just a fraction of the regulated sector, it argued, and brought with it lower prices, more cost transparency and higher levels of innovation.
Now, please excuse the shouting, but this point, seemingly impossible for the LSB to understand, really must be made: OF COURSE THEY’RE CHEAPER, THEY’RE UNREGULATED.
These are businesses without any requirement for training, not needing to adhere to regulatory protections and rules and allowed to operate as they please.
Solicitors are trapped in a vicious circle: ordered to conform to costly regulations and then lambasted for high costs when they do. Sure, the unregulated sector helps to fill a gap in the market, in the same way a lorryload of Irn Bru would help to fix a drought.
Demand does not mean that supply must be allowed to roam unabated and free to do as it pleases.
The quotes of LSB chairman Sir Michael Pitt were something else. Apparently ‘we hear too much anecdote about the unregulated parts of the legal sector and alleged problems associated’. Perhaps he would prefer to hear fewer anecdotes about the problems? It would certainly make for a quieter life.
The unregulated sector helps to fill a gap in the market, in the same way a lorryload of Irn Bru would help to fix a drought
This new research, he counters, suggests the unregulated sector is ‘neither as big nor as problematic as some have suggested’.
Well, excuse me for caring about the protection of consumers, Sir Michael. Really, I should rely more on LSB research which, it should be noted, included 45 interviews with unregulated providers and a review of 250 unregulated providers’ websites. How curious that problems with the unregulated sector didn’t appear to be as problematic as we imagined?
There is a place for unregulated providers in the marketplace. So long as consumers know the risks and the status of their lawyer, they can choose who they like.
But for a regulator to put out such partisan, counter-intuitive and borderline dangerous messages is a dereliction of that duty to protect consumers. For solicitors burdened by regulation, it must be like having their teeth pulled. By me.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor