LSB wants more transparency in legal sector by 30 June

The LSB today published four outcomes it wants regulators to achieve, including a ‘step change’ in standards of transparency to help consumers understand the price and service they will receive. Clients must also have more understanding of the redress options available and the regulatory status of their provider.

The LSB wants promotion of the use of independent feedback platforms, more data accessible through comparison tools and better information available to assist consumers when they identify their needs.

On this final outcome, regulators are urged to either enhance the existing Legal Choices website and pursue alternative mechanisms such as partnering with existing websites like the one run by Citizens Advice.

But regulators are warned off creating their own accreditation schemes and reminded this is still the role of representative bodies.

The LSB said its policy is that frontline regulators should set the minimum standards required of firms, with schemes to promote higher standards left to others.

Neil buckley

Neil Buckley

Neil Buckley (pictured), LSB chief executive, said his organisation is encouraged by the ‘collective goodwill and early progress’ from regulators since December and is keen that this continues.

He added: ‘The LSB has long been clear that there is a need to increase competition in the market and a major part of achieving this will be to ensure there is better information available for consumers in relation to price, quality, redress and regulation.’

One frontline regulators have published their action plans, these will be assessed against the LSB’s preferred outcomes.

Responding to the Legal Services Board (LSB) recommendations following the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study, Bourns said: ‘It is helpful that the LSB has set out its thinking on how the frontline regulators may implement the CMA’s recommendation.

SRA and LeO to examine how well firms handle complaints

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is turning its attention to how law firms handle complaints, commissioning its first piece of research on how firms’ processes can influence the quality of service clients receive.

The regulator announced today that the £50,000 study, jointly funded with the Legal Ombudsman, will examine if there are any issues to consider about the effectiveness of firms’ complaints processes.

The regulator said it wants to understand firms’ approaches to dealing with complaints and understand any barriers they face to handling complaints well.

Examples of good and poor practice will be highlighted. The regulator also wants to ’gain a consumer perspective’ on firms’ complaints handling.

Last year oversight regulator the Legal Services Board published updated complaints guidance for regulators.

The board, in a decision document published in July, said a review in 2015/16 suggested complaints-handling processes were not achieving the desired outcomes. ’While data shows improvements in complaints handling with some [approved regulators], other data shows that the number of “silent sufferers” remains high – those that know how to complain, but are unwilling, due to a lack of confidence that the profession will resolve their complaints,’ the board added.

The SRA’s latest research is part of its 2016/17 research programme.

According to an SRA board paper published in December, previous research exploring consumer experiences of using asylum and family legal services found that some consumers ’lacked awareness of the availability of redress and that there is a misconception that pursuing redress will have an adverse impact on the outcome of their case’.

Research companies London Economics and YouGov have been commissioned to conduct the latest research, which will involve speaking to firms and members of the public.

The research has been budgeted to cost between £50,000 and £55,000, including VAT.

LSB to look at operation of Business Oversight Board and The Law Society

The LSB said it was opening the investigation into the society’s internal governance arrangements following representations made by the SRA, which has been agitating hard for structural independence on top of the operational independence it is meant to have now.

LSB chief executive Neil Buckley said the aim was to investigate whether the Law Society’s oversight and monitoring of the SRA was “such that representative functions impaired the independence and effectiveness of the performance of the SRA’s regulatory functions, in breach of rule 8 of the LSB’s internal governance rules”.

In particular, the LSB is to review the intended role and subsequent operation of the business and oversight board (BOB), which was the main oversight link between the two bodies, and as well that of the Law Society’s ruling council, its remuneration committee and its audit committee in so far as they exercised oversight and monitoring.

Mr Buckley said the investigation would focus on the period from autumn 2014, “when [the Law Society] and SRA indicated to the LSB their intention to review the rule of BOB, up to 15 February 2017”.

He added: “Please note we do not intend to consider any activity currently being undertaken by [the Law Society] and the SRA to remedy any potential areas for improvement within the current oversight and monitoring structures, or propose solutions.”


LSB cost Solicitors £19 per year

Solicitors will pay less than £19 a year towards the cost of the Legal Services Board, the oversight regulator said today, unveiling ‘ambitious’ plans for the next 12 months. The 2017/18 business plan plan is the third and final part of a three-year strategy which has concentrated on breaking down regulatory barriers., tackling unmet legal need, as well as overseeing frontline regulators and the Office for Legal Complaints.

The board, which employs 32 people, says it hopes to reduce its indicative budget by a further £150,000 in the year. It says that  the notional cost to each person authorised to undertake reserved legal activities and holding a practising certificate has reduced from over £34 in 2010/11 to an expected amount of under £19 in 2016/17 and that this will ’continue on a downward trajectory’.

Chief executive Neil Buckley said: ’We are committed to delivering value for money and a service that helps drive the modernisation, deregulation and accessibility of legal services in England and Wales. This is an ambitious business plan in both scope and detail.’

Four years after the legal education and training review was published, and three years after publishing statutory guidance, the board says it has maintained a ‘watching brief’. It plans to increase engagement with the ‘wider’ education and training community ’to make sure we maintain a rich and broad understanding so that our approach to oversight continues to be fit for purpose and reflects best regulatory practice’.

The board said it will engage with any Ministry of Justice proposals relating to legal services regulation and with any initiatives for further reforms arising from the Competition and Markets Authority’s legal services review. It backs the authority’s recommendation to assess the sufficiency of action plans developed by frontline regulators to improve market transparency.

Research on vulnerable consumer’ experience of legal services will be published next year, which will focus on those with mental health problems or dementia.

’Large-scale quantitative’ research into the legal experiences of small businesses, commissioned in 2012/13 and 2014/15, will be updated.

As well as reviewing its internal governance rules, the board will also review regulators’ responses to its revised diversity guidance.

Buckley said: I cannot emphasise enough just how important improvements in diversity are to the future of the profession and, in turn, to the judiciary. This is an issue that has to be tackled not solely at entry level, where there is a good story emerging, we also need to make sure that action is taken to address diversity differentials in relation to progression to senior levels within the profession.’

LSB to have new chair

Exclusive: LSB to have new chair after Pitt decides against applying for reappointment

15 March 2017

Pitt: 70 days’ work for the LSB a year

The Legal Services Board (LSB) is to have a new chair in the coming months, after incumbent Sir Michael Pitt took himself out of the running for a second three-year term, Legal Futures can reveal.

When Sir Michael’s predecessor, David Edmonds, was appointed for a second term, it was done without the position being advertised, but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has this time decided to hold an open competition.

Sir Michael’s term comes to an end on 31 April 2017, and the LSB has confirmed to us that he has decided not to apply for reappointment.

The process will be conducted under the new Cabinet Office governance code on public appointments and the main board of the LSB was told recently that an appointment will not be made until late June/early July.

As a result, the MoJ appears to have breached the code. This says that departments should build sufficient time into their planning for ministers to decide against making a reappointment or extension and holding a process to appoint a successor.

It adds: “There is no automatic presumption of reappointment; each case should be considered on its own merits, taking in to account a number of factors including, but not restricted to, the diversity of the current board and its balance of skills and experience.”

No reappointment or extension can be made without a satisfactory performance appraisal.

The MoJ did not say why it has decided on an open competition rather than reappointment. A spokesman said: “The process of appointing a new chair to the Legal Services Board is underway. The post will be advertised this month and the government encourages applications from those keen to ensure greater diversity in the legal profession.”

Sir Michael receives a non-pensionable remuneration of £63,000 per annum for a commitment of at least 70 days a year.

He has cut a far less controversial figure in his tenure than Mr Edmonds, but effectively came to the same conclusion as his predecessor that radical reform of legal regulation was needed, with publication last year of the LSB’s “vision for legislative reform of the regulatory framework”.