The oversight regulatory body has given its provisional backing to the competition watchdog for a complete review of the legal sector.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced last month plans to examine concerns about the affordability and quality of legal services in England and Wales.

The watchdog said it would decide within six months whether it intends to refer the market for a more in-depth investigation. Representations about this option are needed by this week.

Legal Services Board chief executive Neil Buckley (pictured) today said he would ‘not wish to see a market investigation reference ruled out’ of CMA plans.

In a four-page letter to the antitrust body, Buckley said the CMA is right to start by looking broadly and including unregulated providers in its study.

‘Whilst the functioning of the legal services market has without doubt improved since the Legal Services Act 2007, we know… that it still has a long way to go before it can be said that there is effective competition,’ he said.

Buckley said there are ‘significant’ levels of unmet legal need; just 20% of the public with a legal problem plan to take it to a lawyer.

He added that although the extent of shopping around has increased in the past five years, progress on consumer empowerment has been ‘sluggish’.

The programme of deregulation and liberalisation has reduced burdens on providers, he noted, but the underlying legislative framework still needs reform.

Buckley revealed that the LSB expects to publish a number of research reports in the next six months, including a legal need survey of individuals, a study on the prices of common legal services, a study to map the provision of unregulated legal services, work on the operation of the public access arrangements and economic research on the likely impacts of changes to regulatory rules.