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Draft Bill set to shake up legal market

26 May 2006

The reform of the legal services market took another step forward this week as the government published the draft Legal Services Bill.

The Bill, based on recommendations made by Sir David Clementi following his 2004 review of the legal services market, outlined plans for a new independent regulatory body and alternative business structures, where lawyers work alongside other professionals.

Announcing the publication of the draft Bill, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, selected house-buying and bereavement services as two industries that could benefit from the reforms. He said that these ‘one-stop shops’, providing consumers with a single service provider ,would offer “a modern, straightforward and effective service that gives value for money”. He said he expected other companies to follow the example set earlier this year by the Co-Op and the AA in setting up legal services when the legislation is passed.

The new regulatory body, to be known as the Legal Services Board (LSB), will oversee the functions of front-line regulators such as the Law Society and the Bar Council. While the professional bodies have mostly co-operated with this proposal, they have repeatedly voiced their concerns that the LSB may be viewed as exerting government control over the legal profession unless it remains a ‘light-touch’ regulator.

The Bill also confirmed the establishment of the new Office of Legal Complaints, an independent body set up to investigate consumer complaints over the provision of legal services.

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