Legal services consumers are under the misplaced assumption they are protected by the regulatory regime, an academic specialist has concluded.
In an update to his unofficial review of legal services regulation, Stephen Mayson, an honorary professor at University College London, said some form of regulation should be extended to currently unregulated providers to improve consumer wellbeing and public confidence.
He said much of the protection offered by the current system was ‘illusory’ and called for consumer dispute resolution to be mandatory across the legal sector – taking away the burden placed on the consumer to pursue remedies through the courts.
He said the latest report has been shared with the Ministry of Justice but its influence on government policy is questionable. Mayson’s previous report, completed in 2020 after two years of research, was also submitted to the MoJ but in the same year then-justice minister Alex Chalk said there were ‘no plans’ to amend the Legal Services Act 2007. Since then no signs of any change of policy have emerged from the department.
The latest Mayson report calls for regulation of providers of will-writing, estate administration, employment and lawtech services. It argues for a shift in the emphasis of regulation from the avoidance of consumer harm to a state where ‘consumers can have confidence in their choice of legal advisers without burdensome enquiry about their regulatory status’.
Mayson said: ’We believe that in England and Wales we have the best legal system in the world, and some of the best lawyers. We are right to believe that. But we must also accept that our regulatory framework that oversees it is an emperor with precious few clothes on.’
The report suggested that greater transparency and disclosure about providers is worthwhile but is ‘not the answer’ to a lack of legal capability. Equally, increasing the range of providers might address unmet need but will not deal with the question of consumer protection.
The report added: ‘All of these initiatives might improve the quality of provision or otherwise reduce the need for redress; but they do not help those consumers who still find themselves disadvantaged or harmed. They might reduce the potential for harm, but they fall short in dealing with the actuality of harm suffered.’