The Law society has issued a response to the Legal Services Board (LSB) consultation on empowering consumers, saying that it must give frontline regulators room to understand consumer engagement and the challenges facing the public.
Following a consultation launched by the LSB on a draft statutory statement of policy on empowering consumers, outlining how the regulators should ensure that those seeking legal advice have the information they need to shop around and exercise choice, the Law Society has responded, saying that, “we are committed to promoting access to justice and to making sure that legal services meet people’s needs”.
In its proposals the LSB said it wants regulators to implement effective programmes of activity to support public legal education, focusing on activities that support understanding of legal problems and how to access professional help, including, contributing to meaningful cross-sector initiatives like the Legal Choices platform to improve public understanding of the citizen’s legal rights and duties.
The consultation follows the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) market study of legal services in 2016 and a further review in 2020 in which it was found that the market was not working in the best interests of consumers. The CMA recommended that the regulators improve market transparency for consumers and for the LSB to coordinate and oversee progress.
In response to the consultation, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce commented:
“We urge the LSB to give time for frontline regulators to understand better current levels of consumer engagement and the nature and extent of any challenges the public face before introducing new measures.”
Suggesting that regulators should also be given more flexibility as to what specific remedies they may introduce, Boyce said:
“Given the diversity of the professions and practice areas covered by different frontline regulators, a flexible framework can ensure regulation is proportionate, targeted and delivers tailored approaches that consider the needs of clients, especially those in vulnerable circumstances.”
“Empowering consumers to engage more effectively with the legal market can help alleviate some of the underlying obstacles to obtaining professional legal advice. The LSB’s policy statement reflects the importance of PLE in addressing challenges for access to justice and consumer engagement. We encourage the LSB to engage in wider public policy interventions and extend its partnerships beyond legal regulators to develop impactful cross-sectoral PLE initiatives.”
Commenting on work already carried out to improve transparency across the industry, Boyce said:
“Solicitors have also put significant effort into providing more information to clients on prices and services since the SRA Transparency Rules were introduced in 2018. Any new proposals must be robustly assessed to understand the benefit for clients and the impact on the market, particularly small firms and sole practitioners.”
“It is also important that regulators consider implications for diversity and inclusion, as Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors are often working as sole practitioners or in small firms. We look forward to continuing to engage with the LSB as it seeks to empower consumers in the legal services market”, she added.
The full Law Society consultation response can be accessed here.