Legal services need change and reform - Lord Faulks
With just one in ten accessing the legal services support they need, former justice minister Lord Faulks QC and a panel of experts discussed reform of the legal services sector at a Conservative conference fringe event.
Speaking, former justice minister Lord Faulks said "We need to have a system that is much cheaper for everyone” he said, stating that the Legal Services Act of 2007 needs to be re-examined.
The Conservative peer said that ultimately it is the consumer who pays for excessive regulation, there is a need for change and reform, but that better regulation does not mean more regulation.
He also advocated for having fixed costs in legal services, where possible. “I think the time has come for fixed costs” he said, calling for the Government to bring proposals forward.“For us, access to legal services is absolutely key,” stated chair of the Solicitors Regulation Authority Enid Rowlands, and currently “it is absolutely clear that there is a huge unmet need.”
She pointed to recent research which showed that only 13% of firms in the UK felt legal services are affordable, and that nine in ten people do not seek the legal help they need. While the SRA should not regulate on price, she said, it was its duty to ensure there was room for a healthy legal services market.
One way to achieve this, she explained, would be to open up the market place by “bringing down barriers to entry” for firms providing legal services, by encouraging things like alternative business structures to succeed, and ensuring an open and competitive legal market. Additionally, removing other barriers was necessary, such as ensuring professional standards are at the forefront of all solicitors’ minds, something the SRA has been consulting on.
Rowlands also noted how the handbook for solicitors, at 600 pages, was in need of simplification. “We regulate in the public interest” argued Rowlands.
Small businesses clearly need access to legal services, said chair of the Sole Practitioners Group, Sukhjit Ahluwalia, and the fear of the cost is “obviously” prohibiting.
“Clearly price has to be looked at” he said, arguing that the cost of becoming a solicitor was significant, with new solicitors sometimes having to spend up to £70,000-80,000 on training.
Lord Faulks said there was a balance to strike between encouraging more people into the profession by making it easier for them to train, and ensuring a large majority of these have a future in the profession. Ahluwalia stressed the value of coming through a work experience route, as this would provide a good test and demonstration of what the career was like for the candidate.
Following up, SRA Chair Enid Rowlands said "we need the brightest and best solicitors" linking this to the launch earlier in the week of a consultation on changes to entry into the profession - by introducing a single assessment for would be solicitors.
She explained that the aim of these proposals are about opening up, and diversifying, the profession, so that it "looks more like the public it is there to support". The public also support the reforms, with independent polling showing that almost eight out of ten supporting the principle of everyone passing the same final exam, and agreeing that this would increase confidence in solicitors.