The Legal Services Board has said there is no evidence of an oversupply of lawyers in the market and proposed introducing ‘fewer restrictions to the way that people are able to qualify’.
In a consultation published today on ‘proposed statutory guidance’ for implementing the recommendations of the Legal Education and Training Review the super-regulator says that despite concern at the number of individuals who fail to obtain pupillage or training contracts, ‘it is very difficult to accept the argument that there are too many lawyers’.
In evidence, it cites ‘the levels of unmet need identified in research looking at both individual and small-business consumers’.
It suggests that ‘it is perhaps more likely that the market cannot sustain the number of lawyers at the current cost’.
Saying that restricting numbers through regulation would not promote competition, the LSB proposes ‘fewer restrictions to the way that people are able to qualify and the range of options open to individuals wishing to pursue a career in the legal services market’.
David Edmonds, chairman of the LSB, said the draft guidance was built on the view that a liberalised legal services market ‘can only function effectively for consumers if there is a significantly more flexible labour market’.
He said the profession needs ‘a blueprint for action to give society the legal workforce it needs for the future’.
The consultation document also says the board disagrees with the Legal Education and Training Review’s recommendations to introduce a licensing regime for paralegals. The vast majority of paralegals are employed in regulated entities and are supervised by authorised persons, it says.
Edmonds noted there was a risk that regulators would not share the same interpretation of the LETR’s report. ‘There is perhaps an even bigger risk that debate about the meaning of the report will slow down momentum.’
John Wotton, chair of the Law Society’s education and training board, described the LSB’s proposal as ‘inappropriate and misguided’. He said the proposed statutory guidance ‘trespasses upon the proper role of the approved regulators and this consultation represents an unwelcome distraction from the work that the approved regulators need to get on with.
‘The LSB and its chairman may be disappointed with the contents of the [LETR] report, but we strongly urge the SRA and other ARs not to dance to the LSB’s tune in discharging their responsibilities in this area, which is so vital to the future health of the legal sector.’
The LSB’s consultation closes on 11 December.