Lawyers would have to demonstrate at regular intervals that they are competent to practise under radical proposals from consumer watchdogs for beefing up quality. The Legal Services Consumer Panel has today called for the introduction of ‘periodic validation’ – a review of permission to practise after a fixed time – reflecting its view that initial education and training does not offer a career-long guarantee of competence. This ‘regular MOT’ might include regulatory checks such as file review or periodic exams, the panel suggests. This could apply to the whole practising certificate but would have ‘more value’ linked to specific areas.

The recommendations are contained in a new report, Quality in legal services, which is based on consumer focus group research. The panel also says there is a case for additional licensing requirements in practice areas where this is not yet a feature. It also wants CPD to be strengthened, recommending that the Legal Services Board undertake a review of CPD ‘as soon as possible’.

The study found that quality factors are not strongly influencing the choice of lawyers and that consumers wrongly believe legal services are ‘risk free’. Regulators should be less reactive, it suggests, for example by providing complaints data and encouraging the development of credible comparison websites.

Consumers neither want nor need quality marks, the research found, because they assume all lawyers are competent. Where quality marks exist, the panel urges regulators to ensure they are designed to benefit consumers and not to restrict competition or control entry to the profession. Quality marks do benefit some consumers indirectly, it acknowledges, as they are used by bulk purchasers and intermediaries who filter the market on consumers’ behalf.

For the full report see the Legal Services Consumer Panel website.