The Board was delighted to meet stakeholders from across the profession in Wales this week as part of our ongoing programme of virtual events to hear from those we work alongside in tackling the legal services sector’s challenges. We discussed technology, diversity and inclusion, access to justice and market transparency from a Wales perspective. We will publish a note of the discussion shortly. The main take away for me was the need for the LSB to play its part in the ambition for a coordinated approach to access to justice and delivering services across Wales; with government, the third sector, providers, and other agencies working together to tackle unmet legal needs, particularly in rural areas. We also discussed the vital role that technology will play in enabling more people to access the services they need, remembering of course the needs of the digitally excluded.
We are grateful to everyone who made the time to meet with us, and it gave us food for thought ahead of our Board meeting the following day.
Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
At our Board meeting, we were joined by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for an update on its work. The SDT has a vital role in ensuring high standards and ethics in the profession and securing consumers’ and providers’ trust.
The LSB has several statutory functions in relation to the SDT, including approving its annual budget and changes to its rules. We had a wide-ranging discussion with SDT President Ed Nally and Chief Executive and Clerk Geraldine Newbold about their operations and the learning from recent cases. We took a close look at their work on diversity and inclusion and heard about their plans for recruitment of their panels and ensuring their Panel Chairs independence. We recommended working more closely with the SRA better to understand the organisational barriers for solicitors with protected characteristics. We also discussed achieving consistency for discipline and professional standards on personal misconduct across the sector and will be considering how we might help to achieve this. We queried why there are currently no thematic reviews published by the SDT in the interest of moving regulation “upstream” and identifying risks and issues associated with different practice environments.
New approach to approving applications for regulatory changes
We agreed revised rules and guidance for consultation. The Board intends that applicants experience a simpler and more straightforward process including greater scope for exemptions.
Progress on quality indicators
Following analysis of the responses to the discussion paper on quality indicators, we discussed our approach to further work in this area. After exploring the potential complications around false reviews and an undue focus on success rates creating perverse incentives for providers to avoid trickier legal cases, we were pleased to support the direction of the project.
In March, the Board agreed in principle to the CMA’s recommendations from its 2020 review of its market study – that the LSB would co-ordinate and oversee work by regulators on market transparency and consumer engagement issues. Since then, we have established a new oversight group chaired by our CEO. The Market Transparency Co-ordination and Oversight group met for the first time on 4 June 2021, and it we hope it will be a helpful mechanism for co-ordinating progress by regulators progress in improving transparency.
We will consider a wider policy statement on consumer engagement at our next Board meeting in July.
We considered a number of options including a mandatory register of unregulated business and using our statutory powers to establish voluntary arrangements. We agreed that the priority for the LSB should be to focus on a single digital register of authorised persons. We saw this as potentially strengthening a range of other initiatives that would have benefits for consumers, including better information on quality. We noted, however, that any specific proposals should be accompanied by a full analysis of value for money.
We also recognised that the prospect of the primary legislation needed to establish a register of unregulated providers – one of the CMA’s recommendations – is limited, but noted that our work on mapping the unregulated sector would be an important contributor to any future decision by Government regarding this recommendation.
We want to support the availability of more and better quality open data across the legal sector. Data is important to technological innovation. It will improve services for consumers and evolve the way legal professionals operate, increasing competition and supporting growth. Data is also important for regulators, who rely on it to develop risk-based approaches and allows policymakers to evaluate whether policy interventions have worked as hoped, and whether changes are needed.
We have committed to making better use of our own data and exploring the opportunities and challenges that the regulatory bodies face in making data openly available.
This June Board meeting closed with the approval of our Annual Report and Account 2021-22 after its outing at ARAC last week, and we look forward to it being submitted to the Parliament shortly.
Our next Board meeting is Tuesday 20 July 2021.