The Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer warned Law Society Council members that they should not wait for the Clementi review to report before implementing change and also to expect no "sacred cows" when it comes to reforms to the legal profession.
It was the first time that a lord chancellor had addressed the leaders of the solicitors' profession and he flagged up the work of David Clementi's forthcoming review of regulation, which is due to report by the end of 2004.
"There can be no sacred cows in seeking to deliver the high standards of services that customers want," said Falconer. "But we mustn't let the welcome fact of the work of the Clementi review put a stop to all progress in the meantime. We need to work together to examine areas where change for the consumer's benefit can be delivered in the short and medium term." In particular, he earmarked three areas – multidisciplinary partnerships, the role of employed solicitors and the probate market – as some of the areas that should be looked at "quickly and imaginatively".
The Lord Chancellor added that solicitors could, "in the main", consider themselves to be doing a good job. He continued: "But at the same time, there's no doubt that for too long many people have found interacting with the legal profession daunting, or sometimes more than that – a complex, challenging, sometimes even alien experience, with lawyers sometimes operating in a manner and in an environment a world away from most people's lives."
Lord Falconer also made clear that any review would consider barriers to entry to the profession and whether it was in the interests of the profession "to match the diversity of their customers with the diversity of their lawyers". This, he argued, could include driving down the costs of qualifying to be a solicitor and making more training contracts available so as to create "opportunities which are open to the widest range of people".