In a former life I was an entertainment writer. I interviewed Steve Coogan and Sir Cliff – I even went to a Justin Bieber concert (my hearing is still suffering from the screaming – not my own I should add).
I was great fun at dinner parties as I recounted stories of the latest star to have crossed my path – my friends would sit, enraptured, by tales of the Cheeky Girls and Jodie Marsh, like five-year-olds watching Jackanory. Sadly, those days are gone.
These days I bore people about legal services regulation, which is like kryptonite to any normal conversation.
As my long-suffering wife, who’s contractually obliged to listen to me, puts it, it’s all just letters: LSB, SRA, BSB, OMG, etc. (admittedly the last one comes up more rarely now I'm not a showbiz hack). Trouble is, there’s a really intriguing story here of hubris and power struggles. It is like an extended version of The Apprentice, with everyone jostling to survive the cull and each desperate to prove their worth.
As with Lord Sugar’s show, there are just too many legal regulators to start with. The Legal Services Act spawned this nest of regulators to cover solicitors, barristers and all other legal service providers. Looking over them is the Legal Services Board, often dubbed with the misnomer ‘super-regulator’. This oversees each of the minions as well as setting up the Legal Ombudsman and the purveyor of useless waffle, the Legal Services Consumer Panel.
Somehow, solicitors have ended up in one of the most regulated professions in the land – and they’re paying for it. The act was passed in 2007, and the profession has moved on since then. It’s an uncertain time, with banks uneasy about lending to law firms and many senior partners looking longingly at exit door.
Do we need so many regulators? Clearly not. With consumer watchdogs now firmly in place, it’s difficult to see what the LSB actually does, aside from produce often impenetrable reports. Even the government doesn’t seem to care about it, having ignored its opinion on referral fees and will-writing regulation.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Council are happy for it to drift away, like a pacemaker stepping to the side of the track to allow the proper runners to race properly.
But if this week is anything to go by, it won’t go without a fight, having started a ‘formal investigation’ into relations between a representative group (Bar Council) and regulator (BSB) on the cab rank rule.
Quite what the purpose of the investigation is, I can’t quite make out, but it’s clearly a sign the LSB wants to flex its muscles. If it is to disappear, it will go down fighting. Now the government wants a root-and-branch review of legal services regulation, perhaps ending up with a sequel to the LSA.
My advice? As my wife invariably tells me when I start wittering on using legal letters, less is more.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter
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