Regulators intent on introducing new competence checks on lawyers cranked up the PR offensive today by producing evidence that the public back the plans.
The Legal Services Board, which is set to unveil new requirements of qualified professionals later this year, said new research commissioned by the organisation highlighted the importance that people place on lawyers having up-to-date knowledge and skills.
The poll of 1,005 people also appeared to show a gap between public expectation and what regulation currently requires of lawyers to remain competent throughout their careers.
The LSB said 55% of respondents assumed that lawyers face regular checks of their skills and abilities in the same way as other professionals like doctors, pilots and teachers are assessed.
The vast majority (95%) thought lawyers should have to demonstrate they remain competent throughout their careers, and 87% agreed that legal services regulators should do more to reduce the risk of a lack of competence.
Discussions with a focus group also found there should be mandatory checks for all lawyers to reflect different areas of law, the experience of each individual, and the size of their law firm.
The research will no doubt be held by the LSB as further proof that it needs to intervene to force regulators to add further requirements of those they oversee. Today’s findings chime exactly with the LSB’s report published earlier this year which called for a ‘more robust’ system to ensure lawyers maintain high standards after qualification.
Director of policy Chris Nichols said earlier this month that regular competence tests were necessary and noted that regulators’ current approaches are not geared towards understanding, preventing and responding to competence issues.
Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said: 'There is a gap between what the public expect when it comes to lawyers’ competence and what checks are currently in place. We will be developing our thinking on what more needs to be done in this area to build public confidence, and engaging widely on our emerging thoughts.'
The Solicitors Regulation Authority scrapped the requirement for solicitors to complete 16 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year in 2016. Solicitors are now asked to ‘reflect on the quality of their practice and identify any learning and development needs’.
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