Anyone who has worked in the legal industry will know what a nightmare the sector’s regulatory set-up can be.
As someone who ran a family law firm for nearly 20 years I certainly do. Regulation plays an important role in any profession – it is crucial that bad practice is kept out and that clients know they are dealing with someone they can trust – but the recent swell of complaints from the legal sector is telling.
As a profession we specialise in drafting, applying and interpreting rules and regulations, and it seems we have never made an exception on creating rules for ourselves. It can be a tiring and sometimes bamboozling task to meet all of the regulatory requirements put in front of us. There are always more forms to fill in and more checks to pass. It is rarely simple either, which is hardly surprising when there are so many regulators involved. We have nine different professional regulators – ranging from those for solicitors and barristers to draftsmen and legal executives – and the overseeing Legal Services Board.
Keeping up with the ever-changing rules coming from all of these regulators can be a minefield to get through – and one which too often distracts you from the important day-to-day business of running a firm and helping clients. The Ministry of Justice has become only too aware of the growing concerns expressed by legal professionals about these issues. I want to make clear that we have heard you, we have listened and we understand – only too well in my case. We know that this is a challenging time for legal firms and we want to do what we can to lighten some of the load.
That is why we have decided to take action and launch a review of the whole of the legal services regulatory framework. Our aim is to reduce some of the burdens which hold back the legal industry by simplifying the regulatory framework, while at the same time ensuring there is still appropriate oversight.
We are going into this review with an open mind. We do not have a pre-held view for what the outcome might be; it could be that ultimately only small changes are needed or it could be a major overhaul. The people who know best what is needed are, of course, those who work with the system. So our first step has been to issue a call for evidence from professionals working in the legal sector. We need to know exactly what you think the problems are and how you think they should be addressed. We will then consider your views and work out what the next steps should be.
This is a complex area. The laws involved come from at least 10 pieces of primary legislation and more than 30 statutory instruments, and the review will encompass it all. We are open to views on how the legislation interacts with the detailed rules and regulations of the different regulators, licensing authorities, and the LSB and Legal Ombudsman. We have asked all of those bodies for their own views on the situation, as many of them have also raised their concerns, along with others whose opinions will be valuable, including the Legal Services Consumer Panel, Office of Fair Trading, consumer representative bodies, legal academics and the judiciary.
We hope that by gathering all viewpoints we will be able to find a solution which protects consumers without creating unnecessary burdens for firms. The government is committed and dedicated to reducing the unnecessary red tape that can hamper businesses. This applies in all industries and the legal sector is no exception. We are proud that the UK’s legal services are regarded as the best in the world. We want to do everything we can to help firms strengthen that reputation and help Britain’s economy compete in the global race.
- To contribute your views to the call for evidence please go to tinyurl.com/pw8st8u or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Helen Grant is justice minister