The focus of our meeting this month was how we continue to broaden and deepen our engagement with the sector. We considered how we could better communicate our vision for reshaping legal services that better meet the needs of society and build on the high levels of stakeholder engagement that informed our state of legal services 2020 report.
Sometimes it is put to us that we ought to restrict our activities to the purely regulatory and invest a much greater proportion of our effort in scrutinising the performance of the legal services regulators. While that is an important part of our role, and one we take seriously, it is unlikely by itself to deliver meaningful progress against the regulatory objectives set by the Legal Services Act. This includes protecting and promoting the interests of consumers. A key message of our strategy is that it is only through collaboration that the challenges facing the legal services sector will be met.
Like all regulators, we also need to ensure that in delivering our functions, we are informed by the deepest understanding we can generate of the sector in which we operate. We can do that in different ways, for example through our research and evidence gathering. But we also need to continue to provide opportunities to hear directly from people and businesses across and connected to the whole legal sector. This will be particularly important as we put increasing emphasis on our convening power, and engage with legal services regulators, legal services professionals, consumer groups, academics, government departments, third sector bodies and many others.
Engaging grassroots lawyers is important
Over the last year, we’ve been pleased to be able to engage directly with lawyers. As part of our State of Legal Services Report’s development, for example, we met with the ‘Joint V’, the largest regional law societies – Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. We hope to continue working with the representative bodies to ensure we hear the profession’s many voices.
We will also continue our ‘out of London’ meetings to ensure we engage with lawyers and others across England and Wales. Although the Covid-19 pandemic means we must hold these meetings online, at least for the time being, they allow us to focus on issues pertinent to Wales and specific regions, and to hear from the broadest range of people.
It is essential that we hear from grassroots professionals, particularly as one of the regulatory objectives is encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession. As the forthcoming strategy for the legal services sector makes clear, this objective is particularly pertinent as the legal services sector recovers from the pandemic.
The pandemic overlays many of the existing challenges facing the sector. It is increasing legal need, broadening, entrenching social inequalities, and threatening the sustainability of parts of the profession. We are concerned that it might make it harder for certain groups to start legal careers and progress to senior roles. We also know that it is putting the justice system under considerable strain and creating challenges for regulators and complaint and disciplinary bodies.
By working together, we can help the sector emerge stronger from the pandemic. This is vital because legal services underpin a well-functioning economy, the rule of law and the very fabric of our society.
We are unashamedly pro-public
It is also vital that we hear the voices of people who need legal services. We are unashamedly pro-public – promoting the public interest in a well-functioning market, and the interests of individuals who do (or could) benefit from legal services, and of course recognising and promoting the fundamental role the legal system plays in protecting our rights and interests as citizens. That’s why we work closely with the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) who provide us with expert advice on the consumer interest, and why we are broadening the range of voices we are bringing in to the policy debate.
Working with the LSCP we have also established what we call a “Public Panel” to obtain views from ordinary citizens to understand their perspectives. The panel – which is really a research tool as opposed to a panel of appointees – gives us a pool of many thousands of people from all backgrounds across England and Wales whose voices we can draw on to inform policy development across a wide range of issues, including from more vulnerable groups.
The panel complements the large scale quantitative surveys on legal needs, prices and innovation that we publish regularly. All our research is published and made available for others to use, and the regulators can also use the panel to help shape their work and ensure it is consumer-focused.
Collaborate with us
When we publish the final strategy for the sector next month, I hope others will see the many opportunities that lie ahead for us to work together to make a positive difference for people who need legal services. By working together, we can drive competition and improve the way the market works. We can improve diversity and inclusion across the sector and increase professionalism. Our vision is ambitious, but we are ready for the challenge. I hope others will join us.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss how we can collaborate.