So, the government has put a review of the regulatory mess afflicting the legal industry into the ‘too difficult’ box, blaming a lack of consensus regarding the ‘longer-term vision’ (news, 5 May).
This is a great shame and a missed opportunity. The ‘longer-term vision’ that the government was apparently seeking had surely already been formulated in the previous decade: namely to open up the legal services market to new entrants and to put consumers at the heart of regulation. It was very optimistic to expect consensus on how to achieve this after carving up regulatory responsibilities among numerous bodies with conflicting priorities.
As things stand it is hard to see how having a multitude of competing regulators is helpful to consumers or firms. And the relative paucity of innovative ABSs is at least in part due to the deterrent effect of complex and overly prescriptive legislation (see schedule 13 of the Legal Services Act in particular), as well as the laborious ABS approval process.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority appears to be taking steps to address its operational failings, but the regulatory world within which it operates has fundamental issues which need government intervention to deal with. As yet more regulators enter the fray, fixing these problems will only become more difficult.
Daniel Sutherland, partner, professional practices group, Fox Williams, London EC2