The overarching message of the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) interim report into what impact the Legal Services Act has had on the profession is a resoundingly non-committal ’it’s too early to tell’.
Critics say five years is a long time to wait for just three approved alternative business structures (ABSs). Even senior LSB executives admit the so-called ’big bang’ has failed to materialise.
Although the lack of sweeping changes may fuel calls for the LSB to confine its role, it has seen the industry through the recession while scaling back its costs. Its three-year plan states that it will continue to play a leading role in “transforming” the profession.
LSB chief executive Chris Kenny acknowledged that prices and complaints are up, meaning more people are opting not to seek legal advice, and that the perception of legal services as costly and inaccessible persists.
A high percentage of people who do hire lawyers are content, but as these are often done on recommendation and with no direct measures of comparison, conclusions are tenuous.
Approved industry regulators are still needed to get a grip on the £25bn sector, so until then the LSB will “continue to fill a gap”.
Despite limited data the report, released last week, claims to have come up with a “baseline” marking where the profession is and where it needs to go next. It sets out 17 key indicators in an evaluation framework by which the industry will be measured every April.
What information there is shows the market has contracted sharply for residential property transactions, divorce and non-family civil proceedings.
“It’s difficult to conclude with any confidence that the quality of legal services has improved over the 2008/09-2010/11 period,” states the report. “Rising complaint volumes against a background of falling demand also points to a falling level of quality.”
LSB regulatory research manager Robert Cross said the report - to be published in full in October - would enhance the way the authority cantrack improvement.