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People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones

The LSB’s arguments about regulation cannot be taken seriously until it admits that it is part of the problem, says Susanna Heley

In the six years since its launch, the Legal Services Board has bumped heads with the SRA, the Law Society and the Bar Standards Board on a number of occasions. So it’s not really surprising that outgoing chairman David Edmonds used his final speech at the LSB to rail against the attitudes shown by the primary legal services regulators, accusing them, in effect, of arrogance, wilful ignorance and resistance to change.

Edmonds’ speech, published on the LSB’s website, makes a number of interesting points but, at the same time, reveals a degree of entrenched thinking on the part of the LSB, and undermines the points he seeks to make about the benefits of evidence-based regulation and a willingness to innovate.

The attitude that comes across (underneath the obvious frustration) is that the profession is so unreasonably wedded to the past that its concerns about the LSB’s various policies are simply manifestations of a refusal to embrace an obviously better approach. While some of the criticisms made by Edmonds may be justified, it seems somewhat harsh to criticise regulators for delay in circumstances where the LSB has routinely extended its own decision periods in relation to applications for approval of significant rule changes.

The extent to which the LSB’s own attitude has contributed to the problems is also worth considering. The LSB has, from the outset, had an agenda pushing, for example, the issue of lay majorities and subsequently lay chairman on regulatory boards. The LSB’s reasoning for this is removing the risk of unconscious bias and the influence of vested interests. It ignores the potential benefits of specialist practical knowledge.

The profession has a number of specific peculiarities, which are not trivial issues. It must be assured that regulators are capable of recognising these and crafting a regulatory framework that affords proper protection, not just in terms of service delivery but in the wider sense of preserving specific legal rights.

Edmonds’ speech gives a final push to the agenda of abolishing the current system in favour of a single regulator – by definition, ending our professional identities. It cannot be a surprise that a group who take pride in their professional status are sceptical of an organisation whose agenda, from the outset, has been to turn us all into authorised legal services providers.

The LSB and the Legal Ombudsman are creatures of the same statute. The LSB took up its role rather sooner than LeO amid no less wariness on the profession’s part. LeO had the difficult task of persuading solicitors that it was not going to follow in the late and unlamented footsteps of the Legal Complaints Service.

On the whole, though, LeO has seen greater success in winning the cooperation than the LSB. Perhaps this is because of a greater willingness on LeO’s part to widely engage with the profession and listen to some of its concerns.

Also, the publications of LeO are altogether more readable than those of the LSB, which tend to be overburdened by management speak.

It was clear from the various responses to the government’s call for evidence on legal services regulation last year that neither the LSB nor the main regulators of the profession were particularly happy with our current system of regulation. It has always been equally clear that both the LSB and the regulators were pursuing their own agendas. The LSB’s plan for reform, in particular, was to start again from scratch with a single regulator for all legal services.

However, from 1 May, the government has taken the prospect of reform by way of amendment to primary legislation off the table and it is clear that we must make the best of the system we are now stuck with for the foreseeable future.

Susanna Heley

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal and is reproduced by kind permission. You can read the original article by clicking here.


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