Undeterred by its failure to implement a quality assurance scheme for advocates, the super-regulator has now set its sights on how to assess the competence of all qualified lawyers.
In its draft business plan for 2019/2020, the Legal Services Board identifies maintaining professional standards as a key long term policy objective. The subject is included as part of the organisation’s aim to promote the public interest through ensuring independent, effective and proportionate regulation.
The LSB says recent reforms to education and training have focused on entry to the profession, but regulators also need to ensure that lawyers remain competent throughout their careers. It notes that while consumers can usually observe ‘service quality’ factors such as promptness, courtesy and administrative efficiency, they cannot measure the technical quality of the lawyer’s work.
The LSB adds: ‘We have noted that, unlike other professional services environments, eg healthcare, there is no regular formal assessment of practitioners during their careers beyond requirements on continuing professional development.
‘Particularly in the wake of [advocacy quality assurance scheme] QASA no longer being pursued, we consider the time is right to look again at this issue from first principles.’
The LSB had previously approved regulators' plans for QASA as a method for assessing the quality of advocacy, but the scheme was finally killed off earlier this year after five years of opposition and court challenges.
In the next 18 months, the LSB will carry out a thematic review of how front line regulators ensure continued competency among lawyers. The Solicitors Regulation Authority changed its rules two years ago so solicitors would no longer need to count CPD hours. Instead they are now required to reflect on the quality of their practice and identify learning and development needs themselves.
Elsewhere in its objectives, the LSB says it wants to be at the forefront of enhancing public legal education, potentially through encouraging regulators to simplify their public-facing processes and adding to the support available to litigants in person.
‘We want to see higher levels of legal capability in the whole population, and particularly in vulnerable groups disproportionately represented in the legal system,’ says the LSB. ‘More individuals and small businesses should be able to recognise when their problem is a legal one and know how to get help – and this should ultimately lead to less ‘unintentional’ unmet legal need.’
The full consultation on the LSB’s business plan is here, with comments accepted by 6pm on 27 February.