It seems striking that just as the SRA announced the adoption of its Competence Statement as the new measure for the standard of service (and ability) required of solicitors, MPs were warning of the dangers of litigants "relying inappropriately on people without legal qualifications".
In the wise words of my colleague and friend, @iaingmiller, all professional regulation can in essence be reduced to three things: a badge, a brevet and a boundary (I confess he may have used the word "authorisation" instead of "brevet", but I have never been one to resist the lure of pointless alliteration).
So traditionally there is a professional title (e.g. barrister) which requires some process of education or recognition to obtain (and describes to some extent the professional remit); a regular authorisation process (e.g. the practising certificate), without which the badge-holder cannot exercise their professional privileges; and a definition of the professional perimeter which may require enforcement (either by protection of the title, or restriction of the functions that can be performed without that title, e.g. advocacy in the higher courts on behalf of others).
Which brings me to my point. We seem to be entering an era of profound uncertainty about what the badge means, whether the brevet is worth the cost and where the boundary begins or ends.
The Legal Services Act 2007 was intended to liberalise the legal market and increase access to legal services by promoting competition amongst the suitably qualified and regulated. However, there are currently few signs that this has yet occurred: it would seem in fact that a significant amount of those seeking legal advice choose to pay someone unqualified to provide it, almost certainly because the cost of obtaining "proper" legal advice is perceived to be too high.
Are entry costs. i.e. the price of the badge and the brevet, part of this? If so, is the SRA's adoption of a competence framework that, as the regulator puts it, is not "tied explicitly to graduateness" a tacit acceptance that in order to achieve the LSA's regulatory objectives and lower those entry costs, a less rigorous standard of academic achievement will be accepted?
Such suggestions were rejected by SRA board members yesterday. But if, as is being suggested, McKenzie Friends are to be brought into the regulatory fold, one wonders what meaningful distinction can or will be drawn by ordinary members of the public between the unqualified and qualified "lawyers" the market offers them, other than price. Which doesn't to my mind bode well for investment in education, training or qualifications at the consumer end of the market.
Faced with this vision of the legal market, there is increasing force to @StephenMayson's view that all legal advice should be regulated, with the current legal regulators adopting a position analagous to the medical colleges, as training providers who promote standards in a particular specialty and assess competence by higher level qualifications.
However, MPs said they were concerned by the growing numbers of McKenzie Friends in the courts and concluded: “We recommend the government consider and consult on whether there should be formal regulation of McKenzie friends who could be classed as engaging in professional activity, whether fee-charging or not.”