Until now, the future reform of legal services regulation had been tolerably clear. The Ministry of Justice was considering implementing a paper from the regulators which would make the current arrangements work more effectively. Once that was done, the Ministry of Justice would move on to a more extensive review of the current system before 2020.
However, the Treasury as decided get involved and things have taken an unexpected turn. In is paper, "A better deal: boosting competition to bring down bills for families and firms", the Treasury has set its sight on an eclectic mix of markets which it says need reforming. Broadband, water, electricity, school uniforms (how British) and err, legal services. It wants to change the legal services market now before waiting for a more holistic review. These changes are:
- Making "it easier for alternative businesss structures, such as supermarkets and estate agents, to offer legal services like conveyancing, probate and litigation." It is not yet clear as to whether this is implementing what has been proposed by the regulators. If so, these important but modest changes are not likely to have sought after outcome. If more is intended then this could mean a more radical approach to the restrictions on how ABSs operate within other businesses.
- Making "legal services regulators independent from their representative bodies." The Legal Services Act already has a framework for this overseen by the Legal Services Board. It is possible to go further but it seems odd to deal with this issue but ignore the more important and related issue of whether we have the right regulators in the first place.
- Reducing the ability to claim costs for minor personal injuries. This has a significant impact on the business model of many personal injury firms.
- "Injecting innovation into the process of home buying." This seems to involve a re-engineering of the way in which we buy and sell homes which will impact on the conveyancing market and the commercial property market as it is difficult to see how the mechanisms for the transfer of land could be different.
Taken together these are all proposals to deal with the consumer market for legal services but are likely to have an impact on the business to business market as well. It seems that issues in the consumer market will be the drivers of change across the whole legal services market. The future seems to be coming a little sooner than we thought.
Treasury officials said in a paper on boosting competition, published today, that there would be a consultation by spring 2016 on “removing barriers to entry for alternative business models in legal services, and on making legal service regulators independent from their representative bodies”.