The super-regulator has set out proposals for a robust approach to the continuing professional competence of lawyers, following last year’s call for evidence.
In a report published today, the Legal Services Board (LSB) said that despite the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the nine other legal regulators already having comprehensive measures to ensure lawyers are competent at entry level, there are few formal or consistent checks ensuring ongoing professional competence.
The LSB said that according to research, most consumers wrongly assume that lawyers are subject to regular formal checks.
There is a “clear misalignment” between what the public expects and the reality.
It announced its intention to develop and consult on new expectations for legal regulators which are likely to include setting out the standards of competence legal professionals should meet at the point of entry and throughout their careers.
Under the plans, regulators would also be expected to implement mechanisms identifying and responding to those who fail to meet those standards and identify areas of increased risk to consumers.
The LSB is also considering additional targeted intervention by regulators where there are concerns about consumers who are at an increased risk of harm.
The approach taken by other sectors have influenced the LSB’s plans, with potential options such as a shared core competency framework setting out the skills and knowledge expected of all legal professional and spot checks or file reviews to test an individual’s practice.
LSB chair Helen Phillips said consumers need to know that lawyers “have the necessary, up-to-date skills, knowledge and attributes to help them with their legal problems”.
She commented that the lack of routine competency checks post-qualification “is unusual and out of step with other professions”.
“We need to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society, which includes ensuring lawyers remain competent throughout their careers”, she added. “This will help increase trust in legal services, raise standards and improve access to justice.”
Phillips said the LSB will discuss the options with stakeholders ahead of a formal consultation later this year.
A Law Society spokersperson said: "The Society welcomes the report and notes that we will be engaging with members and the LSB as the work progresses to ensure that any proposals carefully balance costs and regulatory burden for professionals against any potential benefits."
Linda Ford, CEO of CILEX, said the proposals “are an important step towards improving consumer confidence in lawyers”.
“It is clear”, she added, “that maintaining public trust and confidence requires not just high standards of qualification but the maintenance of competence through continuous professional development… As consumer demands evolve, so too should our profession’s response.”