LSB publishes lawyer competency consultation

The Legal Services Board (LSB) says it finds the legal profession is “out of step compared with other professions”, and that greater focus on assessing and understanding levels of competence is required.

To address this, the LSB has launched a consultation on a draft statutory statement of policy on the outcomes regulators should pursue to ensure legal professionals have the necessary and up-to-date skills, knowledge, attributes and behaviours required to provide good quality legal services.

The draft statement, which follows extensive independent research and cross-sector engagement, is designed to be “risk-based, outcome-focused and flexible”, says the LSB, and will ensure that the public and consumers can have confidence that legal practitioners remain competent throughout their careers.

Previously conducted LSB research reveals a gap between what the public expects when it comes to ensuring lawyers’ competence and what checks are currently in place. In practice, it says “there are very few routine or formal measures to ensure ongoing competence after a lawyer qualifies”.

For example, 95% of those surveyed believed lawyers should have to demonstrate they remain competent throughout their careers, and 87% thought legal services regulators should do more to reduce the risk of a lack of competence undermining public trust in the legal system.

The draft statement sets out the following outcomes regulators will be expected to deliver:

  • Set the standards of competence that those they regulate should have at the point of authorisation and throughout their careers.
  • Regularly assess and understand the levels of competence within the profession(s) they regulate, and identify areas where competence may need to be improved.
  • Make appropriate interventions to ensure standards of competence are maintained across the profession(s) they regulate.
  • Take suitable remedial action when standards of competence are not met by individual authorised persons.

LSB Chair Dr Helen Phillips said:

Lawyers help to keep our society safe, protect our liberty and enforce our rights. Consumers should be able to trust in the competence of legal service providers, not just when they qualify but throughout their careers. The status quo is not enough to protect the public interest.

We want to support regulators to adopt a proportionate and risk-based approach, and develop an approach that is fit for purpose for the professions they regulate, while ensuring a minimum standard of ongoing competence requirements across the sector.”

The consultation follows LSB research on consumer attitudes, the LSB’s call for evidence in 2020 and a review of competence frameworks in other countries.

The SRA has commented that while continuing competence remains a significant focus, additional requirements should only be targeted at high-risk areas of practice.

The LSB consultation closes on 7 March.

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