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Traditional high street services to remain under LSB spotlight

Oversight regulator presses on with regulation of will writing along with commitment to look into conveyancing and online legal services

20 June 2012

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Will writing and conveyancing services will be among the main areas the Legal Services Board will continue to scrutinise next year, with a number of projects reaching either completion or critical stages.

The LSB’s 2012 annual report published yesterday also confirmed the timescale for projects ranging from online legal services for consumers to the impact of regulatory change on the legal profession.

In April the LSB launched a consultation on the regulation of will writing, suggesting that it should become a reserved activity, alongside probate and estate administration.

The consultation came ten months after publication of the consumer panel’s findings, in July 2011, that standards in the sector were “at an unacceptably low level” and should be regulated.

“This is not about extending regulation for the sake of it,” LSB chair David Edmonds said at the time. “It is about maintaining public confidence in an important legal process, enhancing the environment for reputable providers and protecting consumers at particularly vulnerable times in their lives.”

This particular consultation will close on 16 July this year and, according to the LSB, will be followed by a second consultation in October based on the feedback received.

The next likely stage is a set of recommendations to the Lord Chancellor, which the LSB said was expected to be in January 2013.

“Once we’ve done that the ball is passed to the Lord Chancellor and that becomes a legislative process; and that could take time because it will be up to the Lord Chancellor and the government to decide how quickly they want to move on this,” an LSB spokesperson told Solicitors Journal.

Conveyancing was also listed in the report as an area warranting investigation. “We will consider regulatory issues in the conveyancing market in 2012/13 and whether further action is needed

While no timescale has been set the spokesperson confirmed the LSB would initiate research in the sector in the coming year.

Further hints that the oversight regulator will turn its attention to traditional high street activities include research carried out by Vanilla Research on the information consumers seek from online services.

In late April, the board, in conjunction with the Law Society and the Ministry of Justice, also briefed market research agency TNS-BMRB to conduct a separate survey to assess the effect of regulatory changes on law firms. The agency is working with Professor Pascoe Pleasance, Dr Nigel Balmer and Professor Richard Moorhead on how regulatory changes are affecting the market for legal services. The project is scheduled to be completed by September 2012.

The findings published last week suggest that consumers are yet to be convinced by the usefulness and reliability of online legal services. They will form the basis for further investigation by the LSB into the delivery of legal services through different channels.

Other priorities: diversity, advocacy, training

Another main item on the board’s agenda will be the promotion of a more diverse profession.

At the LSB’s request frontline regulators produced detailed plans on how they intended to collect “more comprehensive” diversity data, including “embedding of diversity and social mobility requirements into their rules concerning ABS”.

Regulators delivered these plans in February and the LSB now expects the first full cycle of data collection to be completed and made public by March 2013.

No further action is being planned at this stage, the board has said, as the next steps would depend on the results of this first data collation exercise.

Other projects due to complete in the next 12 months include the adoption of a unified quality advocacy scheme for advocates and a review of legal education and training.

A framework for QASA was agreed last month but it continues to split the professions. Nevertheless the board said it was “hopeful that parties will come to an agreement on a common regulatory application in summer 2012 to enable implementation to commence towards the end of the year”.

Lawyers should also hear next month about progress in relation to the review of legal education and training, with the board due to consider the issue at its July meeting.

The board, which held a series of seminars for the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) Consultation Panel, has been accused of pushing a reform agenda that doesn’t take account of the professions’ own record on education standards.

Last month LSB chair David Edmonds said his organisation merely facilitated the debate by bringing together the lead regulators involved in LETR – namely, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, CILEx and the Bar Standards Board.

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