An overwhelming majority of lawyers believe that wealth is becoming a more important factor than it used to be in gaining access to justice.
The finding emerges from a survey of more than 500 solicitors and barristers - including partners, managing partners and heads of chambers - by London firm Hodge Jones & Allen. More than four out of five lawyers believe the justice system is not accessible to all members of the public, according to the Innovation in Law Report 2014.
Six in 10 lawyers believe there is little trust among the public in the fairness of the judicial process.
One respondent said: ‘I see the rule of law slowly becoming eroded as access to courts and tribunals (assisted by competent representation) become affordable only to the very poor or to the very rich.’
Half of lawyers think the Jackson civil litigation reforms ‘benefit business and government rather than the ordinary people’, with 58% agreeing that ‘compliance with court orders now takes precedence over the delivery of justice’, particularly hitting litigants in person, who many believe are now being denied access to justice.
Two-thirds of respondents said ‘the taking of a percentage of damages, instead of success fees, is to the detriment of the claimant’.
With new entrants to the market and increased competition, nine out of 10 lawyers think big practices will start to dominate the market – 89% predict more multi-disciplinary professional services, 72% believe consumer brands will soon enter the market in a significant way, and 79% think international super-brands will emerge.
As a result, nine out of 10 lawyers think there will be a commoditisation of legal services, and the same number believe management will be dominated by non-legally trained staff.
Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of lawyers would not recommend the legal profession as a career, with only 55% of those surveyed intending to carry on in the law for the rest of their careers.
'The image of the profession is in danger of becoming irreparably damaged. "Lawyer bashing" has become a national sport,' according to one partner's response.
Three-quarters of lawyers think senior positions throughout the profession are dominated by ‘white, public school-educated men’, with only 12% feeling it is easy to combine being a mother with developing a legal career.
Other findings include:
- More than half (57%) support the idea of introducing virtual courts in certain cases;
- 46% say recent reforms are likely to contribute to a substantial increase in the future use of private arbitrators instead of the courts;
- Nearly three-quarters think they are better managed than they were five years ago, and that financial management of legal practices has improved;
- More than half think the quality of service provided to clients is better than it was five years ago;
- Nine in 10 think the embedding of IT within working practices has improved;
- 79% predict an ‘inevitable deskilling of aspects of the legal process in the future’.