Legal services white paper earns cautious praise from top law bodies

The major legal professional bodies last week gave a cautious welcome to the recent government white paper on the future of legal services, but warned that future legal regulation must be independent.

Organisations including the Law Society, the Bar Council, the City of London Law Society and the Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex) submitted responses to the white paper two months after its publication in November 2005.

The Law Society pressed for more safeguards to be introduced to separate new oversight regulator the Legal Services Board from government control.

Law Society president Kevin Martin said: “The consumer interest is important, but so too is the wider public interest; and while these interests are often similar, they are not necessarily conterminous.”

The society also criticised a lack of clarity about the level of professional involvement in the proposed regulatory framework.

The Bar Council raised concerns about the cost of the proposals, suggesting that “the cost of the new scheme is likely to be substantially higher than has so far been stated”. Ilex agreed, adding that the transition costs of the new framework should be paid for by the Government instead of the profession.

Proposals to allow “alternative business structures”, whereby lawyers will be able to work in partnership with other professionals, were given a cautious reception. The City of London Law Society said: “The City firms think that there needs to be considerable additional consultation before the proposals in the white paper can be finalised for legislation.”

Legislation to implement the white paper is due to be introduced later this year.