This is the first in a new series of post-Board blogs as part of our drive to improve transparency in the way we operate. We’re aiming to publish them within a day or two of Board meetings. While they won’t try to reproduce all the detail of Board papers, we hope they will provide more rapid updates on Board business and help bring a bit more context to the issues we are working on.
This month the Board was delighted and grateful to be hosted by Northumbria University in Newcastle for our October meeting and a range of engagement events, including a workshop with the legal community dedicated to ongoing competence, a visit to the University’s Student Law Clinic, and a presentation from Sarah Morse, Editor of the International Journal of Public Legal Education.
Ongoing competence workshop
We were very grateful to be joined by around 30 members of the local legal community who gave us their views on a range of questions on the topic of ongoing competence. We are at the beginning of our work in this area and are seeking contributions from the public – including practitioners and training providers – as we shape a more formal call for evidence later in the year.
The workshop marks what I hope will come to be seen as a positive change in the way we develop regulatory approaches at the LSB, one that is based on curating a broad conversation about key issues to inform our thinking before we consult on formal proposals.
I can’t do full justice to the breadth of the input we received in this blog, but points that resonated strongly with us included the need to acknowledge the wide range of circumstances in which lawyers work, the ethical component of formal training (and the desirability of maintaining that as reforms are pursued), and the need to see professional education and training as a career-long endeavour.
Judging by the richness of the contributions we received in the workshop, we’re both confident and excited about the value of this way of working and I am expecting it to become the norm for the LSB.
Northumbria University Student Law Clinic
We had the opportunity to be given a tour of the Clinic and to meet some (very impressive) current and former students who had benefited from being part of the initiative. The most salient messages we took away were the dedication of the staff and students, the quality of the service provided to the community (including in terms of public legal education) and how beneficial the experience was to alumnae when they found themselves in professional practice for the first time.
Public legal education
We were grateful to Sarah Morse for the time she gave up to talk to us about public legal education. Sarah talked us through the diverse players in the field and their varying approaches, as well as her perspectives on the role of lawyers themselves in providing PLE. We are in the process of focusing our approach to PLE on where regulation can add most value and Sarah’s insights were extremely helpful. We had a good discussion on whether the distinction between “just in case” and “just in time” PLE really did full justice to its potential to improve access to justice and consumer confidence. We’ll be firming up our approach over the next couple of months or so: watch this space.
The Board meeting itself kicked off with Matthew Hill, the LSB’s Chief Executive, inviting questions on his monthly report to the Board. Among a number of developments, I was particular pleased to see reports in the horizon-scanning paper that the legal profession was performing well in the Social Mobility Foundation’s league table. Equality and diversity continues to be a priority for the Board, and we will be stepping up our pursuit of this objective.
We also discussed how important it was that the legal services regulators continued to support the development of Legal Choices as it moved into the final year of its three-year development programme, focusing on marketing and promotion. The Board was very clear that it would be premature to measure the success of the initiative before it had been given the chance to realise its potential. We were also very clear that any regulator that chose not to support Legal Choices would have to invest significantly in alternatives in order to satisfy us that it was performing satisfactorily in this area, a point we have made plain in discussions with regulators.
Development of our 2021-2024 Strategy
A highlight of the meeting was an early opportunity for the Board to discuss the development of our next three year strategy (2021-2024).
I’m particularly keen that the Board – as oversight regulator for the sector – puts forward a strategy that goes beyond our own organisational objectives: in effect a strategy for legal services regulation that delivers on overarching goals for the sector. With our extensive evidence-base and our convening power, we are in a unique position to advocate for a sector that works well for both providers and consumers.
It is therefore absolutely essential that we ensure all the relevant voices are heard. We already have a number of events planned – which will seeks views right from the early stages of development – and will be working hard to get the right people are in the room.
Solictor’s Qualifying Exam (SQE)
The Board is aware of the strength of feeling around the SRA’s introduction of the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE), and we were pleased to have an opportunity to discuss the next steps for the process.
We know that there remain a number of concerns for stakeholders, and our overarching desire to proactively gather and understand such views carries over into any discussion of the SQE. It is my view that the LSB should drive forward this conversation, and we aim to seek views long in advance of the SRA’s next application relating to the new examination.
One of aims of this blog and our trip to Newcastle is to help increase transparency about the LSB’s work. Transparency is essential to increasing the public’s trust in legal services and I’m keen to explore other ways for us to illustrate our openness further. After all, we continually demand increased transparency from the regulators we oversee, so it’s only right that we demonstrate the same values.
At our September meeting, the Board considered other measures we could take, and we agreed a number of them. There will be fewer redactions in Board papers, and members of the public will be able to ask questions before meetings so they can be answered and recorded in the minutes.
We will also publish agendas before Board meetings and use social media to promote this. We will create a new page on our website to publish information about our performance, in greater detail.
We are also considering whether it would be useful and constructive to hold our meetings in public. As part of this, we’re continuing to look at how other similar bodies operate and what we can learn.
Strengthening existing relationships and forging new ones
Finally, it’s no accident that our relationships with our stakeholders has been an ongoing theme through this blog post. The Board and I are very keen to explore further how we might harness the opportunities for building better and further-reaching relationships as we proactively seek the views of our stakeholders.
At the meeting, we were able to confirm two avenues for this. The first: a stakeholder survey to be launched early next year, and second: a new stakeholder-focused newsletter – to launch imminently. The Board and I very are keen to hear the views and perspectives of all of you on whom our work impacts, so please do be sure to sign up to receive the newsletter and have your say.
If you have a view that you’d like to share with us, please do get in touch. Indeed, if you have any feedback or questions about anything covered in this blog, or our work in general, please email us at ContactUS@legalservicesboard.org.uk.