The oversight regulator has set out how it plans to reshape the legal market – but it will need a bigger budget, raised from practising lawyers, to do it.
The Legal Services Board has published a draft strategy to meet a range of targets including lowering unmet legal need, dismantling barriers to diversity and closing gaps in consumer protection.
Other areas coming under the microscope in the coming year will be the scope of regulation, the importance of legal expenses insurance, and legal support for small business and vulnerable people.
Such lofty ambitions reflect the challenges outlined in a ‘state of legal services’ report last year and are part of renewed efforts to ‘galvanise’ the entire sector.
Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the LSB, said: ‘By collaborating, we can ensure that citizens who need legal help can easily compare services and choose a provider that meets their needs and suits their budget. We can create a more diverse legal services sector that is trusted by everyone and build a market that supports innovation and commands public confidence. Together, we can reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society.’
Meeting the challenges identified would require additional resources, the LSB said. The budget for 2021/22 will increase by 4.4% to £4.1m, to be met through a statutory levy on approved regulators. This effectively means every qualified lawyer will pay an extra £1 in their practising certificate fees.
Phillips added: ‘We recognise that Covid-19 has increased financial pressures on some parts of the sector, and we thought very hard when producing our draft budget. We believe that we need to support this jurisdiction to maintain its international standing when the pandemic is over.’
Next year’s work includes looking into whether there should be a review of reserved activities that can be carried out only by a qualified lawyer. The LSB concedes that the government is not planning any major reform of the Legal Services Act and its initial view is that arguments against a review ‘outweigh the benefits’.
Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene today welcomed the consultation and said the organisation would ask members about the proposed strategy and to what extent the outlined measures will aid sector recovery post Covid-19.
Greene added: 'The regulatory regime can’t fix all of the challenges facing the sector. Access to legal aid and justice is disappearing in large parts of England and Wales, creating legal aid deserts. Help for people that the government agrees should be available is simply not there.'
The LSB’s strategy is out to consultation until 5 February.
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