The ethics of pro bono

A second nation-wide lockdown is now less than 48 hours away.  Many of our fellow citizens will as a consequence face unexpected and unwelcome legal issues, and I suspect many of their needs will be met through pro bono provision.  

I was therefore honoured and delighted to offer some opening thoughts this morning to a very important and timely seminar hosted by LawWorks and the University of Bristol as part of Pro Bono Week.  I was invited to share my reflections on the two-year Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation that I concluded in June and the associated landscape of legal professional ethics. Here are those reflections (also available as a PDF).

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An independent review of legal services regulation

The announcements are out, and the work has started!  I’m honoured to be leading a fundamental review of the current regulatory framework for legal services in England & Wales through the Centre for Ethics & Law in the Faculty of Laws at University College London.  Full details are available here.

The independent review is intended to explore the longer-term and related issues raised by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study in 2016, which concluded that the legal services sector is not working well for individual consumers and small businesses, and that the current regulatory framework is unsustainable in the long run.  It called for a review of that framework to make it more flexible as well as targeted at areas of highest risk where regulation is most needed.

The time for the review is right.  In the light of Brexit, ‘taking back control’ presumes full confidence in our domestic rule of law and legal institutions, as well as maintaining our performance and competitive position in the global economy.   The provision of effective and properly regulated legal services is critical to maintaining the rule of law, and the effective and efficient administration of justice.  It is also necessary for sustaining the UK’s position and reputation as a world-leading jurisdiction for the governing law of international transactions and for the resolution of disputes (though this already appears to be under some pressure as a result of Brexit).

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Confidence in regulation

This is a conference* about ‘trust in the market’ and building confidence within the sphere of legal services regulation.  I shall therefore open with the observation (or reminder) that regulation is a public intervention in otherwise private transactions and free markets.  It must therefore stem from a political judgement that we should not have complete trust and confidence, and must instead rely on the intervention in the market. issue of how confidence in regulation develops and is then sustained is a fascinating one.  It begs preliminary questions of what we mean by ‘confidence’, and from whose standpoint we are assessing it.

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