Guest blogger - Steve Brooker, LSB

Steve Brooker, guest blogger from the LSB, writes for the Legal Ombudsman

While we may not always recognise it, we all rely on the law every day of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that law forms the scaffolding on which we build our civilisation. It keeps us safe. It provides ways to resolve disputes without violence, and gives the weak a voice in the face of the strong. It protects us from tyranny. In terms of economic life, it gives us the confidence to be able to transact and invest, and in so doing unlocks prosperity.

And it follows that those who trade in the law – lawyers and legal businesses – are entrusted by society with a very precious cargo. People who need legal advice often do so at the most vulnerable times of their lives. They may be dealing with a relationship breakdown, debt or housing problems, or bereavement.

So becoming a lawyer is more than just taking on a job. It’s joining a group in which the public places its trust. Most of the time that trust can be well-placed. But sometimes things go wrong. An important part of maintaining public trust is knowing that there is someone there to help when they do.

That’s why providing redress for consumers is key to public confidence. It’s also why a high-performing Legal Ombudsman, well-led and properly resourced is firmly in the interests of both consumers and the legal professions.

Right now we know that the Office for Legal Complaints, under its new Chair, is working hard to improve performance at the Legal Ombudsman, and we will continue to support it in doing so.

That support includes a recognition that the current legislation gets in the way of agility, creates a system where access to redress is patchy and confusing, and creates barriers to the fast, low-bureaucracy and low-cost resolution mechanisms everyone wants.

At the LSB we are very open to solutions that push the envelope of the current legislation, provided consumers don’t suffer. But we can also see the benefits of reforming the system, as has been proposed perhaps most notably by Professor Stephen Mayson in his recent review of legal services regulation. The time is right for that debate.

Impacts and recovery from COVID-19

That debate must take place within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a profound impact on the demand for and provision of legal services. Consumer demand is soaring in some areas and falling in others, while organisations that people rely on for legal advice are facing new challenges to their ability to continue to provide these services. It is vital that consumers can access the services they need to address their need.

Our support for the sector is to ensure recovery of the sector is focussed on protecting consumers. We have been encouraged by the professions’ resilience and innovation through the COVID-19 crisis and we see an opportunity to look at how services can be delivered in different ways to better meet the needs of society.

To help others understand the consequences of the pandemic for the legal services on the market, we have brought multiple sources of data together though our COVID-19 dashboard. We hope that the data is helping others to mitigate the negative impacts and identify opportunities and we plan to expand it over time.

Developing a strategy for the legal services sector

We have spent this year engaging (virtually!) with people both within and outside the legal services sector to develop our new strategy. Crucially, this will be a strategy for the whole sector, not just a corporate strategy for the LSB, and as such, it will seek to set out a compelling agenda for change. We’re encouraging stakeholders to reflect on what has been achieved in the last 10 years of legal services regulation, and we’re trying to build consensus around the key priorities for the future.

While this work began before the pandemic, sector wide recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 will play an important role in the strategy. We are listening to the issues that are likely to provide the greatest opportunities and challenges for the sector for the next three to five years.

Alongside our engagement, we have been compiling evidence from across the sector, which will be published as part of the state of the legal services sector report in autumn this year. These will contribute to a draft strategy which we will consult on before publishing a final version and business plan in March 2021.