We began this month’s board meeting by again reflecting on the impact of Covid-19 on the sector. It has been a challenging twelve months for legal services providers and people and small businesses who need legal services.
Working with regulators to support the profession
Since March 2020, we have focused on making it easier for regulators to make any changes necessary to help them and those they regulate cope with the pandemic and supporting a recovery from Covid-19 that promotes the public interest. We were particularly keen to ensure that the regulators understood the impact of Covid-19 on the people and firms they regulate and on the regulatory objectives.
We established our Covid-19 dashboard in April 2020 to monitor the effects on the professions and on access to justice. As lockdown measures begin to ease, emerging data suggest that the sector has, so far, remained broadly stable during the Covid-19 pandemic. Overall, the numbers of regulated lawyers have not changed significantly and are in line with trends that existed before the pandemic.
The current data doesn’t include barristers, but so far, concerns that a significant number of lawyers might leave the profession because of Covid-19 have not transpired. It is still early days, though, and we do not yet know what impact the removal of government support such as furlough payment will have. The figures also mask that different parts of the market have fared more or less well, the individual stories of the lawyers who have sadly lost their jobs and businesses, and the personal losses and difficulties that many people have faced.
Promoting a consumer-focused recovery
We continue to be concerned about the pandemic’s impact on access to justice. As our dashboard shows, there are significant backlogs in the courts, increased demand for legal services in many areas and there is concern about the extent of closures amongst legal aid firms in particular. As we emerge from the pandemic, we will work with regulators to build a strong and independent profession and reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society.
Promoting the regulatory objectives through our statutory processes
One of our roles under the Legal Services Act is to approve changes that regulators make to their regulatory arrangements. We are reviewing our statutory processes to make them as clear and transparent as possible. This has involved engaging with the regulators to explore potential options. The review provides an opportunity for us to ensure our processes focus on promoting the regulatory objectives. We will work with regulators to ensure we have a shared understanding of what they want to achieve and what the impact is likely to be on the regulatory objectives. One of the main aims is to make it easier for regulators to get approval for changes that benefit citizens and consumers by building the regulatory objectives into their thinking from the outset.
The Board discussed the need to ensure that changes to regulatory arrangements support progress on diversity and inclusion. We know that the profession is not representative at all levels of the society it serves and that not all citizens have the same access to legal services. We want to ensure that future changes not only avoid causing further detriment but that opportunities are being sought and taken to positively improve diversity and increase access.
Bringing our sector-wide strategy to life
Collaboration was a recurring theme during our meeting. Following the launch of our consumer-focused sector-wide strategy last month, we considered our approach to communications and engagement and how we plan to work with others to address the sector’s challenges.
Our strategy was produced following extensive stakeholder engagement. But it doesn’t stop there. We will continue engaging with the vast range of people who have a role in ensuring the legal services market in England and Wales works well for everyone.
As we deliver and curate our strategy, we will continue to identify the areas where the LSB and regulation can have the greatest impact and explore what others are doing to tackle the challenges. We will share our research and ideas, and listen to others, and we work together to make a difference for consumers.
If you would like to collaborate with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.