The Law Society recently called on the Legal Services Board (LSB) to ensure its three-year strategy and 2021-2022 business plan highlighted access to justice, regulatory stability and support for a strong, independent and diverse profession in order to maintain public confidence and aid recovery of the sector post-pandemic.
The LSB’s strategy identifies nine challenges, which reflect many of the Law Society’s priorities, such as diversity and inclusion within the profession, promoting access to justice and enhancing technology and innovation in the sector.
However, we believe the strategy must pay greater attention to the economic recovery of the legal sector and the crisis in the justice system, which has been severely under-funded for many years and impacts clients and wider public confidence.
The challenges facing many parts of the profession at the moment cannot be underestimated, including a difficult economic climate, rising business costs and Brexit.
Rather than ‘re-shaping’ legal services and the regulatory landscape, we encourage the LSB to focus its strategy on keeping the wheels of justice system turning by ensuring regulatory stability, which will, in turn, help the sector recover, serve clients and uphold the rule of law.
The Law Society has recommended the LSB:
- focuses on the biggest challenges: access to justice, fair outcomes for disadvantaged people, a diverse and inclusive profession, high quality legal services, strong ethics, innovation and technology
- strikes a better balance across its regulatory objectives – by doing more to encourage an independent, strong and effective legal profession and to protect and promote the public interest, which is vital during a time of economic and social upheaval
- does more to adhere to its core statutory role by overseeing regulators’ performance and ensuring high professional standards, clearly articulating how it can add value to avoid duplication
- focuses on impact – the LSB should identify key performance indicators and impact measures against which it can be measured
The LSB is proposing a strategy for the whole sector and its success will rely on the collective efforts and actions of many stakeholders, with the profession playing a pivotal role in its delivery.
In this vein, it will be important for the LSB to provide clarity where its role begins and ends, and how its oversight function can add value, to ensure transparency and accountability.
The Law Society has an important role to play in driving progress on these issues, in particular by promoting access to justice, advancing diversity and inclusion in the profession and facilitating the adoption of innovation and technology in the sector.
We have significant ongoing work programmes in these areas. Earlier this week, we joined the #10000BlackInterns initiative, which aims to offer paid work experience across over twenty sectors – including the law – to create a sustainable cycle of mentorship and sponsorship for the Black community.
Our Achieving Change Together programme also seeks to bring senior lawyers together to share and promote practical experience to drive out inequality.
After years of arguing that changes to regulation will not fix the crisis in access to justice, we are delighted that the LSB has recognised and promotes the need for public funding of legal aid to address this issue.
We also have ongoing work into the role of lawtech and technology in the profession. In 2019, we published a report – Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law – which found that with the right support from government, technology can be the key to unlocking access to justice innovation.
We look forward to working with the LSB in the coming months to ensure justice, the profession and the public are protected during this unsettling time.
David Greene is Law Society president