This morning’s result from the UK General Election 2015 prompts thoughts about ‘where next for the legal landscape during the next Parliament?’. Although I suspect that the political outcome of the Election would have made little actual difference to future public funding for legal aid, it is likely that the number of citizens facing a potentially unmet need for legal advice and representation in the next few years will continue to increase unless new forms of provision can be encouraged. Given that these new forms will not be paid for from the public purse, private and third sector innovation must be key.
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of Sir David Clementi’s final report on the regulatory framework for legal services in England & Wales. How time flies! The report is still a good read, and a helpful reminder of what needed to change – and why.
The report laid the foundations for the Legal Services Act 2007 (even though the Act went further on alternative business structures than Sir David was willing to recommend). Its principal aims can be summarised as:
- creating the Legal Services Board and establishing the principle of regulation that is independent from professional representation
- improving the way in which – and the speed with which – complaints against legal services providers are handled, including setting up the Office for Legal Complaints and the Legal Ombudsman
- liberalising the business structures through which lawyers can operate by permitting ownership and investment by individuals who have not qualified as lawyers, and allowing legal businesses access to external capital.
All of these primary objectives have been achieved – more or less. So what now?
Yesterday, I gave a speech at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum about the future for legal services regulation. Part of the question and answer session was reported (identically) by both Solicitors Journal and Managing Partner under the headline ‘Lawyers could have prevented the financial crisis, suggests Stephen Mayson’. I did not say this, did not intend to say it, and the inference (based on what I did say) is completely false. Despite my protestations, neither magazine has so far seen fit to change their story. So here is my response.