New research commissioned by the Legal Services Board highlights the importance the public places on lawyers having the right knowledge, up to date skills and attributes to provide good quality legal services. However, the research also found a gap between public expectation and what regulation currently requires to ensure lawyers remain competent throughout their careers.
In a survey of 1,005 people in England and Wales, over half (55%) assume that lawyers face regular checks of their skills and abilities like other professionals, such as doctors, pilots and teachers. In reality, once qualified, lawyers do not have routine or consistent checks to ensure their knowledge and expertise are up to date.
The LSB’s research found that:
- The vast majority of everyone surveyed (95%) thinks lawyers should have to demonstrate they remain competent throughout their careers.
- Almost nine in ten participants (87%) thought legal services regulators should do more to reduce the risk of a lack of competence undermining public trust in the legal system.
- A similar proportion of those surveyed (88%) agreed there should be more consistency in competence requirements across the legal profession, as there are for other regulated professionals.
The study also invited a panel of members of the public to review and debate information about the competency arrangements in place for lawyers overseen by the LSB, including solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives.
These discussions covered several issues in detail, including whether there should be mandatory checks for all lawyers by regulators, and how measures could be tailored to reflect different areas of law, seniority/experience and size of law firm, and the risks posed to consumers.
Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said:
“This research shows that there is a gap between what the public expect when it comes to lawyers’ competence and what checks are currently in place. We will be developing our thinking on what more needs to be done in this area to build public confidence, and engaging widely on our emerging thoughts.”
The LSB will test policy proposals with stakeholders ahead of a formal consultation later this year.