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The Legal Services Board (LSB) has admitted that the 2007 Legal Services Act (LSA) has not resulted in sweeping changes to the profession, stating in a five-year progress report that it is “early days” to judge its impact.
The LSB’s interim market trends publication was presented yesterday by chief executive Chris Kenny, who acknowledged that there had been “no big bang” in the past five years.
Last week saw the SRA approve the first ABSs (28 March 2012), which were introduced under the act with the aim of improving access to justice, promoting competition, protecting consumers and implementing better regulation.
The perception in some quarters of disappointingly slow progress with the implementation of ABSs (19 March 2012) was partly supported in the report’s key messages that it is “too early” to benchmark the market, there are “gaps in the knowledge” and that the last five years have not seen sweeping changes.
However, what the interim report has done is to collate information to produce a baseline and framework from which to base future evaluation.
LSB regulatory research manager Robert Cross said there had been limited public data to compile. He said the report - to be published in full in October after feedback form stakeholders - is to improve the way the authority can track improvement from this point onwards.
“This is the beginning of a better insight, There’s been no big bang, but it’s definitely the beginning of a different future for legal services,” he said. “We expect the level of information to improve over the coming years.”
He was also clear that the profession still had very few measures of quality and that complaints were rising, as was price, despite falling demand for legal services. This was backed by surveys that showed that most people still chose a lawyer based on a recommendation rather than according to comparitive data because of a lack of transparency - the feature of competitive markets in other business.
Cross said one highlight from the report was that the industry had come through the recession.
He said: “The law has been resilient during a time when the economy is in such a state. People need advice and there is a stickiness in the market. The information is not there for consumers to shop around. What’s good for the profession is not for consumers when they need the service more than ever.”
Using this report as a benchmark, the LSB will publish progress updates annually every April.
Kenny said: “In the future there will be a continuing need for this kind of report. Whether in four or five years time there will be commercial providers who can access data, who can make it sing better than we can, whether it’ll always be for us to do, who knows. Where there’s a gap, we’ll fill it.”