Monday, 2 April 2012

A bar walks into a market....

Yesterday, The Bar Council of England and Wales published its response to The Government's Triennial Review of the Legal Services Board.

In short, the response:

> accepted that there remained a light touch supervisory role for the LSB to ensure parity and consistency across all legal "Authorised Regulators";

> called for the LSB's remit to be confined now that the objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007 had been put in place; and

> cautioned that the LSB be prohibited from unnecessary and burdensome interference in the operations of the "Authorised Regulators".

When I first read the headline that The Bar Council were calling for the LSB's remit to be confined, my immediate reaction was to say "yeah, of course they are". 

However, having read their (refreshingly succinct) response - I have to say that their stance is entirely right but, maybe, not for the reasons that The Bar Council had intended.

Whilst a healthy and robust regulatory framework is essential to ensure public interest in a professional and ethical legal services market, having a multi-tiered regulatory model is unnecessary and adds to the ultimate cost of service for the consumer. 

The LSB's remit is and should be to ensure that the spirit of Clementi, as enshrined in the Act, delivers a new competitive landscape for legal services.  The LSB needs to set and then monitor the criteria and de minimis standards for all legal regulation and then leave it up to the "Authorised Regulators" to decide how they regulate.

The Bar Council (BSB), the Law Society (SRA), CILEX and the Council of Licenced Conveyancers et al must be accoutantable to the LSB and demonstrate they are encouraging competition and ensuring that the minimum standards are met.

So, to this point both me and The Bar Council are as one.

However it is at this point where myself and The Bar Council go our separate ways.

What is the point of having a number of Authorised Regulators if they themselves don't compete with each other?

Each Authorised Regulators should seek to establish what they stand for and then build a quality mark for their regulated members to operate to.  Consumers will then be able to choose, and understand the basis of their choice, between legal service providers including who they are regulated by. 

So bravo for The Bar Council - less over-regulation please but, for me, more clarity about what each regulator stands for and greater competition in the market. 

I hope that the Government heed The Bar's counsel, even though the Bar should be careful what they wish for as it may just come true.

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