This month’s Board meeting considered a number of substantial papers dealing with significant areas in the legal services sector.
Following extensive engagement through the spring and summer with a wide range of stakeholders from across the sector, we discussed how the views and evidence we have collected is informing our “state of the legal services sector” report, which in turn will influence the strategy we are currently developing for the sector.
We will publish the “state of the legal services sector” report in a few weeks’ time. In December we will undertake a consultation on the draft strategy. We expect that strategy to identify a number of challenges to be overcome if the sector is to work better for the public and consumers. While it will outline priority areas of activity for the LSB itself to undertake, it will also invite others to say what they can do (and in some cases already are doing) to address those challenges.
This is an ambitious vision of legal services fit for the future so we will set a ten-year timeframe for the strategy. We look forward to sharing it with you and working together to reshape legal services that better meet the needs of society.
Another significant Board discussion centred on the SRA’s application for approval of its new admission framework, based around the Solicitors Qualifying Exam. The deadline for our decision is 28 October and we will publish our decision on our website by then, alongside the application and representations that we have so far received.
The board also discussed the emerging themes from the call for evidence we issued as part of our ongoing competence project. We were very encouraged by the responses and have published the 31 formal submissions alongside our desk research and research shared by others on our website. We will publish a report of our emerging findings in December 2020. As part of our engagement we met over 50 people and organisations, and there is a clear appetite for the LSB to develop proposals for how regulators ensure lawyers remain competent throughout their careers. We are very grateful for the time and thoughts provided through our discussions. Education, training, and ongoing competence go to the heart of professionalism and increase the public’s trust and confidence in the sector.
We will explore the emerging findings and other options further over the coming months. Importantly, we will ensure that the approach we agree is evidence-based and proportionate. To inform our thinking, we are commissioning research into the systems to ongoing competence adopted in legal sectors outside of England and Wales. This will be available in early 2021. We also plan to test the ideas that we develop on the public via our public panel.
The Board moved on to discuss how the LSB would continue to deliver on our aim to increase diversity across legal services. It is vital that everyone who needs legal services is able to access them regardless of their background, and that the profession reflects the society it serves at both entry and senior levels, by focusing on barriers to retention and progression.
The Board has agreed to an action plan which includes better regulatory engagement to inform our thinking and ensuring we have the research and evidence needed to inform the approach we choose. The Board is keen to focus on barriers to progress within the profession and the differential impact on disciplinary outcomes. We also plan to increase the use of our convening power and work with others.
Until now, our focus has been on increasing the diversity of the profession. It is crucial that we also understand the experiences of people who need and use legal services and explore who they vary among different groups. A diverse profession will enable providers to deliver services that are responsive to the needs of different people.
We expect the findings of this work to feed into a systemic review of the regulatory performance framework, including our statutory guidance on diversity and inclusion, which we are currently expecting to schedule in the second half of 2021 and look forward to sharing with you then.
Our next meeting is on Wednesday 2 December.