Consumers have no means to assess whether lawyers who qualified a long time ago are still competent or have the same level of knowledge. That was the verdict of the Legal Services Consumer Panel addressing the issue of ongoing competence in legal services. In a letter from panel chair Sarah Chambers, addressed to the Legal Services Board which is reviewing current arrangements, it was claimed consumers must currently take a ‘leap of faith’ and assume their lawyer is competent.

Chambers said the LSB should be bold in going further than setting a minimum standard, and ensuring that ongoing competence applies to law firms and individuals at appropriate regular stages. She urged that ‘proactive and reactive’ competence checks should occur throughout a lawyer’s career and could include spot checks or mystery shopping.

She added: ‘Where quality is concerned, most consumers are shopping blind. Consumers associate providers’ longevity in the sector or the sleekness of their website as a positive indicator of quality.

‘Consumers have little choice but to rely on the checks and assessments made by regulators and employers on entry to the profession and during a legal professional’s career. Indeed, they already assume that this happens.’

The panel is calling for lawyers to be required to show they can provide a professional service, with a focus on technical competence and interpersonal skills. This requirement should respond to new demands and consumer needs, and should differ based on the seniority of roles. Legal professionals should have to show emotional competence and be able to show disability awareness in areas such as family law, employment law, social security and housing law. The panel suggests that regulators should also now consider building and maintaining lawyers’ competence in the application of lawtech and technology related skills.

The panel supports the SRA’s outcomes-focused approach, which was adopted in place of the traditional points-based CPD requirement. But CPD arrangements alone are not deemed sufficient, and re-accreditation should also be reliant on regulatory checks such as file review or periodic exams.