Remember a few months ago when the talk was of a single regulator for all lawyers in the new legal world? Charles Plant first mentioned it as a possible outcome at the Legal Futures conference back in April, and a report by Nick Smedley, commissioned by the LSB, stated in June that a single regulator for all legal services is “logical and plausible”.
At the time this got me thinking about consumer redress, and whether a similarly simple model could be the answer. Consumer confusion, and gaps in consumer protection, are big themes at the moment. The LSB is obviously looking at this with its latest discussion paper, and the imminent opening up of the market makes this a key area. The LeO has just recently warned that the overlap between regulated and unregulated legal services is causing consumer confusion, with online services posing particular difficulties.
Consumers need and want simplicity. If they have been provided with a ‘legal’ (in its broadest sense) service, and they are unhappy with such service, they need to know clearly and quickly what body they should be approaching to deal with their concern. So what about having one body? Once in contact with this body, their issue would then get farmed off to the appropriate department, depending on whether or not the service carried out constituted a reserved activity or not, and through what type of entity.
Is this a pipe dream? Certainly at the moment. Setting aside the immediate problem of how one would define ‘legal services’, and issues such as the extent of self-regulation, the change would entail yet more disruption, with all the cost that brings, to the existing structure and bodies. However, from the consumers’ point of view, one port of call, with further direction being led by those in the know, would make life a lot simpler. Might this help in the legal profession’s battle to show that it is open and accountable?