Following each of our Board meetings, our chair Dr Helen Phillips provides an overview of some of the items discussed and key decisions taken. You can find full minutes on our website as well as more information about our Board members.
While we had a full agenda for this month’s board meeting, if we were to identify a unifying theme, it would be ‘looking forward’.
Business plan and strategy
We approved our draft business plan for 2020/21, which we will be publishing for consultation as soon as general election purdah is over. The plan covers the final year of our current three-year strategy and that gave us an opportunity to focus on what comes next.
We’re planning much wider and deeper engagement with the sector than we’ve seen before to help build a shared view of the most important issues still to be tackled in the legal services market. Issues like building public confidence in legal services, equipping people with the capability they need to get the right sort of help, and access to justice more widely.
If you’re reading this, then we want to hear from you about where change is most needed.
Engaging with the public directly
As part of this effort and working closely with the Legal Services Consumer Panel. We will be taking steps to engage with the public more directly than we have before. We’re planning to invest in mechanisms to bring informed public views directly into the debate, using “co-production” techniques common in, for example, healthcare policy. We’ll be looking to offer opportunities for partnering with other organisations, including legal regulators. If you’re interested, please do make contact.
Increasing engagement across England and Wales
We took a decision to organise at least two engagement events per calendar year out of London, one of which we will aim to hold in Wales. On our next visit to Wales, we will want to follow up on the findings of the Commission on Justice in Wales which analysed the current state of the justice system in Wales and reported the need for major reform.
Regulatory performance: latest progress reports
The board had an update on the latest round of performance reports from the regulators we oversee.
There remains a concern that the regulatory bodies have not embedded the regulatory performance framework fully into their own governance arrangements.
We’ve written to each of the regulatory bodies setting out our expectations in terms of timeliness and quality of engagement with the performance assessment process, which is itself a key indicator of how well led each regulatory body is. This is something we will be monitoring very closely.
More widely, a concern emerging early from our assessment is transparency. This is an area in which we expect improvements will be required by all regulatory bodies. We’ll publish detailed assessments in due course.
Office for Legal Complaints budget
Part of our statutory responsibility is to consider budget proposals from the OLC. We considered an initial draft at our meeting and have provided what we hope is constructive feedback about strengthening the business case in order to generate wider understanding of, and hopefully support for, its plans and priorities.
We were grateful to have two external speakers present to the Board, Kate Briscoe, CEO of Legal Beagles, and Professor Stephen Mayson.
Kate Briscoe, CEO of Legal Beagles
The CEO of Legal Beagles, Kate Briscoe, gave us an overview of the legal forum that she set up 13 years ago. It is a consumer information platform which seeks to ‘democratise’ access to legal services by offering free support, discussion and help for consumers. Given that technology is one of our five-year policy objectives, the Board found it interesting to hear how Legal Beagles is addressing consumers’ unmet needs in an innovative way.
Kate explained how much rich data the site has collected over the years, and it was fascinating to consider how it could be used to identify and predict trends and behaviours. Interestingly, Kate explained that the legal areas which commonly arise for the public such as conveyancing or PI insurance see very little traffic on the website as there appears to be sufficient provision in these areas. She told us that the areas that see the most traffic are family/neighbour disputes and parking tickets.
Another of our five-year policy objectives is Public Legal Education and Legal Beagles also serves as an educational platform where the public can learn about which issues are legal and require legal assistance, or not.
With conveyancing work essentially moving online, law firms will be affected by these technological innovations and the Board had a thoughtful discussion about how law firms must evolve and become more transparent and accessible in order to adapt.
Professor Stephen Mayson’s interim report
Professor Stephen Mayson presented his key emerging findings for his 2020 report on the legislative framework for legal services in England and Wales. Stephen told us that he remains open-minded about the final shape of his proposals and his review [so far] has made several suggestions, such as, the Legal Ombudsman having an expanded role with more functions, including the power to initiate investigations rather than simply responding to complaints.
Professor Mayson’s report provoked robust discussion at the meeting. Among a wide range of matters, we debated the scope of regulation, who should ‘own’ title and how the legislative framework can best safeguard professional ethics. The Board look forward to seeing the outcomes of Stephen’s report.
We asked Professor Mayson whether the scope of the current legislation is right. He set out his view that there are plenty of consumers looking for access to justice in areas, such as family mediation, and therefore there are large pockets of unregulated ‘legal’ work. This resulted in a conversation about the balance to strike between requiring minimum standards for all at the very real risk of excluding alternatives from the market due to the cost of regulation (which might actually provide tangible help for customers). This was food for thought. It begs the question how we can best strike this balance to ensure the public are protected whilst we innovate and reform legal services.
More broadly, both of our external speakers discussed issues with the Board that are closely akin to the values we keep at the LSB. How we can make legal services more accessible to customers and how we can protect consumers from poor legal advice? Both Stephen and Kate agreed with us about the importance of protecting the most vulnerable people in society through regulation and/ or legal innovation.
This was our last Board meeting of 2019. Our next meeting is on 22 January 2020, and we look forward to discussing the next steps of our technology project, how we will be incorporating IGR into our regulatory performance framework and developing our plan for the next 3-year strategy.
Happy Holidays and find us on Twitter at @LSB_EngandWal for more LSB updates!