The bar’s regulator has been accused of engaging in a ‘sterile debate’ over alternative business structures by oversight body the Legal Services Board.
The LSB’s broadside came following the BSB’s decision to commission research by economic analysts on the potential effects on the market and consumers of allowing barristers to take part in ABSs.
The BSB said it would be ‘wrong’ to allow barristers to join ABSs without quantified evidence to demonstrate that ABSs are ‘compatible with the regulatory objectives’ of the Legal Services Act 2007, and in the interest of consumers.
An LSB spokeswoman questioned the need for further research at this stage given that ‘debate around the need to remove the anti-competitive elements of the bar’s regulatory regime has been ongoing for at least a decade’.
She said the LSB was pleased the BSB was ‘keen to embrace the new dimensions’ of legal services provision enabled by the act, but said ‘it’s no longer the time to continue having sterile debates about "if".’
The LSB could potentially take enforcement action against the BSB if it fails to allow barristers to join the new multi-disciplinary practices which will be permitted under the act.
The LSB spokeswoman noted that it has ‘a range of enforcement tools’ at its disposal, but added that the LSB was currently consulting on the approach it would take to exercise these powers and it would not be appropriate to pre-judge what action it might take in any hypothetical situation.
BSB chairwoman Ruth Deech said Sir David Clementi, architect of the reforms, or the LSB should have conducted research on ABSs already. She said: ‘I don’t feel confident going forward with the greatest change to affect the legal profession without some evidence that it’s good for the consumer.’
Deech said the BSB was not being ‘reactionary or protectionist’, adding that the research would be completed by the end of the month and a decision made in November, with the new rules ready for approval by the Ministry of Justice by the end of the year.
Meanwhile the BSB also published a consultation on the structure of self-employed practice last week.
The document proposes lifting the ban on prohibiting barristers from sharing office facilities with other professionals such as solicitors and accountants.
In the paper, the BSB says it will not change the rules to permit self-employed barristers to handle a lay client’s affairs, conduct litigation or hold client money. However, they will be permitted to conduct correspondence, subject to safeguards.