The ongoing competence of lawyers – and how to test it – will come under the microscope from regulators who want to discover whether more can be done.

The Legal Services Board yesterday opened a call for evidence on how legal regulators ensure the professionals they regulate remain competent throughout their careers. The oversight regulator has indicated in the past it wants a fresh look at how to maintain standards in the professions, and this latest move could be the trigger for a new approach to continuing professional development for solicitors, barristers and legal executives.

LSB chief executive Matthew Hill said: ‘Public confidence is the lifeblood of professional services, and the legal sector is no different. People need to know that the professionals they hire have the right and current skills and knowledge to provide services they can trust.

‘We know that consumers assume legal professionals are required to demonstrate competence throughout their careers. In reality, once qualified, there are few formal checks on competence.’

The LSB says consumers are not in a position to make fully informed judgements as to the standard of legal advice provided and have little choice but to rely on the checks and assessments made by regulators and employers.

Unlike some other professionals, such as in healthcare and education, lawyers undergo no formal assessment of competence during their careers. Instead, legal services regulators rely primarily on requirements for continuing professional development, usually through unassessed training. A Solicitors Regulation Authority rule requiring solicitors to achieve a minimum number of CPD points during the year was relaxed in 2016. Instead, solicitors should make an annual commitment to ‘reflect on the quality of your practice and identify any learning and development needs’.

The LSB says its findings from previous evidence-gathering show there is no single, shared definition of competence for legal professionals. Consumers assume lawyers are competent and that checks are in place.

Research suggests that regulators tend to focus on assuring competence on entry to the profession, with less attention paid to post-qualification competence. 

The latest call for evidence asks respondents to define competence and competence assurance, assess consumer expectations of competence, and consider quality standards in the legal sector compared with other sectors. The consultation closes on 15 May.