This week we held our Board meeting virtually, once more. We discussed Covid-19, reserved legal activities and regulatory performance. We were also joined by the new Chair of the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), Elisabeth Davies who gave us her first impressions on taking up the role and set out some immediate priorities.
As we’ve done at all our meetings over the last three months, we focused on the impact that Covid-19 is having on the legal services sector and the work the LSB is doing to play its part in responding to the challenges.
Starting with the legal regulators, from the information we have gathered, they have all moved successfully to remote working with relative ease. None has identified regulation as a significant barrier to being able to deliver an immediate response to Covid-19.
We also looked at the intelligence we have on the impact of the pandemic on various parts of the sector. There are growing concerns about the additional effect that the pandemic could have on diversity – for example, in terms of any disproportionate impact of furloughing or job losses on particular communities. Coupled with the fact that Covid-19 itself is hitting BAME communities harder, and against the backdrop of the truly terrible events in the US over the last fortnight or so following the killing of George Floyd, this underlined the need to redouble efforts in relation to diversity and equality in the legal services sector, a path we have already embarked on of course.
We looked ahead to the launch of the LSB’s Covid-19 impact dashboard this month, which will bring together a range of data sources and provide a fuller picture of the trends emerging. The hub will have a particular focus on any negative impact Covid-19 is having on consumers’ access to legal services. We know that the sector may look different in the months and years to come, so it’s vital that people who need legal help and services are not left behind and that access to justice remains a cornerstone of our society. With this in mind, we discussed the need to ensure that our work not only focuses on supporting the sector during the recovery phase but also looks forward and considers what the ‘new normal’ for legal services might be, when we might get there, and how regulation may need to evolve.
We also looked at the impact of Covid-19 on the progress of disciplinary cases, where there is a range of practice across the sector, from on the one hand a distinct appetite to progress cases, including contentious cases, remotely, to on the other a significant reluctance to do so.
The Board was concerned about the detrimental impact that unnecessary delays to disciplinary proceedings could have on public protection. We are keen to ensure that cases continue to go ahead where it can happen safely. This has included an increase in the use of remote hearings. The LSB will be engaging with relevant partners and stakeholders to assess the need for greater consistency, and to ensure that risks to public protection have been properly mitigated.
We discussed the responses to the consultation on Regulatory Performance and proposed regulatory independence monitoring, which closed on 3 April 2020. This consultation outlined the future direction of our regulatory performance policy and explained our plans to expand the framework to incorporate monitoring regulatory independence, through the addition of a new IGR outcome to the Well-led standard and inclusion of the six Approved Regulators into the regulatory performance framework.
We were encouraged by the sector’s response to this consultation and reassured that all respondents accepted the principles of the new outcome and the inclusion of the six approved regulators into the regulatory framework. These changes will come into effect on 24 July 2020 after the end of the IGR implementation transition period. We will write to each approved regulator and regulatory body explaining our expectations as a result of these changes.
Reserved legal activities:
The Board also discussed a proposal for the LSB to review the reserved legal activities. We noted survey data suggesting that unregulated businesses represent just 1% of paid for advice, although this is likely to be an underestimate. While this seems small, it amounts to a significant number of transactions, especially in segments where unregulated businesses have higher market share.
The Board understood that there were a wide range of views on the current list of activities. While some would advocate adding to the list, others would support removing from it. The Board also discussed alternative ways to ensuring people who use legal services are protected.
We also know that most people expect the legal professionals they engage to be regulated, but it should not necessarily follow that all legal activities should be regulated. However, the Board agreed that it would be an undesirable outcome if a review led to more regulators, so it was keen to explore how the existing regulators could adapt. In our aim to promote public trust and confidence in the legal services system we will revisit this topic later in the year, when we can analyse different models, risks and opportunities in more detail.
Elisabeth Davies OLC Speaker:
We were joined by Elisabeth Davies, who started as the Chair of the OLC two months ago. The OLC is the board of the Legal Ombudsman and the LSB Board has charged Elisabeth with improving the service it provides to consumers who wish to complain about a legal professional.
Elisabeth outlined her plans to address performance issues and the learning from the 2020/21 budget application.
We acknowledged that while there is an urgent need to improve, the changes she is introducing will take time to take effect, particularly against the backdrop of Covid-19.
We were encouraged by Elisabeth’s message that the approach being adopted is threefold: restructuring the leadership team, revisiting the service delivery model and investing more in the organisation’s role to raise standards and learning within the sector.
For more information about this Board meeting, please refer to the agenda, papers and minutes.
Our next board meeting is 14 July 2020.