Buried amongst the more eye-catching measures in Wednesday's budget was the announcement of a consultation over regulation of the legal services sector. The Law Society has been first to welcome the move, in a gesture that some see as akin to a strong endorsement of Christmas from the inmates of the turkey farm.
What form this consultation will take is as yet far from clear, though the stated intention is to remove regulatory barriers so that "new providers" can provide legal advice. This does not sound like encouraging news for the traditional legal professions, where oversupply, depressed fee rates and faltering demand in the economy are seemingly permanent challenges.
It may also be an indication that the project begun by the Legal Services Act 2007 to liberalise the market in legal services has hit the buffers. While ABS's offer considerable scope for non-lawyer participation in the legal services market, they have not noticeably increased access to justice or sparked the wave of innovation that some anticipated (which may have been tacitly recognised by the SRA in its recent SRA Innovate programme).
Confirmation from chancellor George Osborne in yesterday’s budget that the government is set to fire the starting pistol on a consultation over regulation of the legal services sector was welcomed by the Law Society as an opportunity for better and simpler regulation, which needs to apply fairly and consistently across the legal services market.