Newsletter – March 2021

Spotlight on… a strategy for reshaping legal services

Following a year of widespread engagement, this month the Legal Services Board will launch Reshaping Legal Services, a sector-wide strategy for legal services in England and Wales. It’s a strategy that recognises that many of the challenges facing the sector are complex and a collaborative effort is needed to meet them. Costs Lawyers are a niche, specialist profession but many of the challenges are relevant to you. These include: dismantling barriers to a diverse and inclusive profession at all levels; ensuring high quality legal services and strong professional ethics; and closing gaps in consumer protection – work to address this last challenge will include taking a fresh view of which legal activities should be regulated.

This isn’t just a strategy for the LSB. It’s a strategy for everyone with a role to play in reshaping legal services to better meet society’s needs. Collaboration is a core theme of the new strategy, and we are pleased to note that collaboration is a watchword of the CLSB’s mid-term strategy as well. We are grateful to CLSB for engaging with us as we developed the strategy and we would encourage Costs Lawyers to participate as we move into the delivery phase of the strategy. Whether this is on empowering consumers to navigate the legal services market, facilitating the adoption of technology or improving diversity across the profession, we will want to hear what Costs Lawyers have to say.

An evidence-based approach is another core theme of the strategy. Here we welcome the CLSB’s commitment to advance its understanding of the consumer aspects of the market it regulates, which taps into the strategy’s consumer-focus.

The legal services market has experienced change against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the significant levels of unmet legal need in society, despite the achievements since the introduction of the Legal Services Act 2007. Many people who need legal help simply struggle to get it. Effective and accessible legal services are a crucial foundation of our society, and as we emerge from the pandemic, the LSB will support recovery that is focused on the public interest.

The strategy builds on our State of Legal Services 2020 report, which reflects on the successes and remaining challenges of the past ten years of regulation.

The report and strategy draw on three overarching themes to achieve this:

Fairer outcomes – widening public access to advice and support and ensuring that no one has a worse outcome or quality of service due to their background or life circumstances. We all need to work together to build a more inclusive culture which enables anyone to enter the law – including becoming a Costs Lawyer – and achieve their full potential.

Stronger confidence – resolving long-standing questions around the scope of regulation and broadening access to redress. It also requires regulators to put the right mechanisms in place so that legal professionals deliver consistently competent and ethical legal services.

Better services – giving consumers the information and tools they need to drive stronger competition, creating the right conditions for providers – including those yet to enter the market – to redesign legal services that respond to their needs. It also entails regulators fostering responsible innovation that commands the trust of both the public and legal professionals.

The strategy seeks to promote competition, support growth and encourage professionalism. However, we know the pandemic has affected parts of the legal sector differently. Some areas have struggled over the last year while others have boomed.

Many providers have also responded to change at a great pace – many have embraced technology, for example, to meet their clients’ needs remotely. We would like to build on the positive momentum and ensure that everyone who needs legal support can access it. We also want to make it easier for people who need legal help to know they have a problem and find the right provider. We will invest in tackling these issues and widen access to justice.

If the strategy is successful, we will reduce unmet need and provide a much more equal experience for consumers. Shopping around will be the norm, and people will find it easier to find and compare providers and reward firms offering high quality and affordable services. Consumers will consistently trust the advice they get, knowing an independent and effective regulatory system is providing the essential protection they need. That system will be equipped to respond to the changing market, provide better value for money and support innovation.

One of our aims is to dismantle the barriers to diverse and inclusive legal professions, leading to a more representative workforce, from entry level and throughout a person’s career. This can’t be done in isolation or by individual groups, and we encourage initiatives that support collaboration to tackle the barriers currently in place. We also know the value of assessing the impact of diversity and inclusion programmes and want to see a focus on creating a collective understanding of what is working to promote a profession that reflects the society it serves.

Similarly, we encourage the sector to work cohesively to support the responsible use of technology that commands public trust. The adoption of technological change can only be effective if it is widely trusted in the community. We will be conducting research to look at public attitudes to technological innovation and work with interested partners to consider how open and accessible data can be embedded in the system.

We hope that you will agree there is an opportunity for the sector to reshape and embrace a culture that puts the needs of consumers at its heart. We will continue to engage with people across the profession, including Costs Lawyers, to discuss ways to collaborate, and organise opportunities to explore the challenges and find solutions. Please get in touch to find out more and sign up for our newsletter.

We look forward to working together to make a difference in society.

Steve Brooker, Head of Policy Development and Research, Legal Services Board

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