Having attended the Westminster Policy Forum Keynote Seminar on The Legal Services Market- Regulation, Innovation and the Future of the Legal Services Act, I think I can honestly say that at last some progress on debates that have rumbled on for years, has been made.
Regulation and the Legal Services Act
We have the Competition and Markets Authority to thank back in 2001, from their former remit under The Office of Fair Trading, for producing a report which led to the Clementi Review and finally The Legal Services Act 2007.
Why do we thank them? Well, in the main there have been many positives that have come out of the LSA 2007, not least the discussions and reports over the last nine years that have led us to a more diverse legal profession with more focus on the consumer both in terms of choice and protection.
The Legal Services Act was fit for purpose in 2007, but the provision of legal services has moved on to become ever more consumer driven, that requires innovation at the heart of its thinking. A new Act of Parliament is therefore needed to cope with the latest trends in legal service provision.
The illogical reserved activities under the LSA 2007 have been a barrier to a progressive legal services market, preventing professional, competent and often more cost effective unregulated providers to compete in the market place. Of course I am talking about PPR Paralegals who now have the ability to be subject to voluntary regulation under the PPR and have Paralegal Practising Certificates. Why should our professionals be prevented from conducting litigation when they are competent to do so? Does this help to combat the crisis that we have in the civil courts where litigants in person are an ever increasing occurrence with no legal representation in sight?
The Legal Services Board has published its ‘Vision on Reform’ and a key component of that is to replace the current eight regulatory objectives with just one:
‘Safeguard the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the delivery of outcomes in the interests of society as a whole.’
At a first glance it is difficult to argue against its sentiment but a closer look raises the question as to who decides what is in the public’s interest? Isn’t cost effective legal services paramount to addressing the unmet legal need, even if it is unregulated?
The regulatory landscape is cumbersome, the LSA 2007 itself is 400 pages long. Regulation is now being championed by the SRA on a risk-based approach and recent indications suggest that in order to cut the cost of regulation, the corporate sector may well be left to a certain degree, to regulate itself.
The LSB appears to be seeking complete regulatory independence of regulators from any representative or commercial interests. This is to be applauded and if it is ever achieved then it is quite possible that the role of the LSB will no longer be required.
The SRA has circa 1,000 new ABS’s likely to be licensed this year. This is good news to help open up the market and to welcome innovation into the sector.
So what can the LSB and its regulators do to ensure that the legal services market truly offers the consumer what it needs?
Firstly, it needs to embrace the opening up of the market to include ‘unregulated’ providers such as Professional Paralegals. Secondly, in order to enable growth in the sector, the burden of regulation needs to be lifted where it is not needed, and finally they should address the need for education of consumers, to enable them to make informed choices.
Kathryn Stone, Chief Legal Ombudsman recently made an extremely valid point that redress for consumers needs to develop alongside the regulatory framework.
Consumers need to know prior to engaging a provider of legal services, what right for redress they have and to whom, should things go wrong.
This is where the PPR has bridged the gap- consumer clients of our members have redress through the PPR where otherwise they have no redress not even from the Legal Ombudsman.
More recently, the CMA published its interim findings on the supply of legal services and I agree with their conclusion that the lack of transparency on price and service is undermining competition, reducing the incentives for providers to compete on price, quality and innovation.
So, what are we getting wrong?
The rise of comparison websites has made it easier for consumers to compare legal service providers in terms of recommendation, but it would appear that legal service providers are still not being clear and transparent with consumers in terms of costs and the services that they will receive.
Latest findings show that 46% of legal services to the consumer are concluded on a fixed fee basis. This clearly indicates a preference by consumers to know how much the service will cost them up front. Of course not all services are easy to bundle or unbundle to provide a fixed fee cost but areas that are procedure driven such as conveyancing are finding fixed fees a popular choice by their clients.
Two thirds of consumers recently surveyed think that legal services are too expensive. Small businesses, that make up 99% of British businesses think that legal services are unaffordable and turn to their accountants, HR departments or google for advice, even though 86% of them agree that legal services are essential to their business.
Of course there is the school of thought that suggests that stimulating competition by price alone effects professional standards. But why should that be?
The costs for legal services is not and never has been an indication of professionalism.
Solicitors cannot offer unregulated legal services outside of a regulated entity, but if they could, does that mean it would affect their professional standards?
It would appear that legal service providers need to provide clearer signals in terms of services offered, the quality of those services, and the costs that they charge at the point of need.
With 1:4 consumers now actively shopping around for legal services, 1:4 using on-line services and 1:5 using unbundled services, legal service providers need to address the needs of individual consumers, corporate consumers and SME consumers and not offer a one-size fits all package.
PPR Voluntary Regulation
We already put the consumer at the heart of our regulatory scheme. We have a complaints procedure and a compensation fund available for clients of PPR Professional Paralegals who have a Paralegal Practising Certificate.
We will over the coming year be looking at transparency in terms of services offered and costs. It is not for us to tell you the type of business model you should have or the type of fee structure, but it is our role to inform you of current trends in the way that consumers want to access and pay for their legal services.
Fixed fees appear to be the preferred option for consumers however where this is not possible, then it is clear that consumers need to know the full extent of the actual and likely costs at the point of need.
The future for PPR Paralegals is bright, the opportunities for you to grow your businesses have never been so good. If you are not a member of the PPR and do not have a Paralegal Practising Certificate then in terms of redress for consumers, you will quite simply be unable to compete.
Rita Leat, Managing Director, PPR
The PPR is proud to announce that the Association of Probate Researchers (APR) has achieved Recognised Body status of the PPR. The new professional body that has been set up by Fraser and Fraser will welcome into its fold Probate Research companies and individuals who would like to offer their clients the greatest protection by being regulated under this voluntary scheme.
Rita Leat MD PPR commented:
“Professional Probate Researchers provide an invaluable service for beneficiaries who may not otherwise inherit from their deceased’s families’ estates. We are delighted that these professionals can now receive the recognition they deserve along with suitable regulation provided by the PPR”.
The Trustees wish to make the following announcements concerning the CEO of the Instructus Group:
David Holland, as CEO of the Instructus Group, is leaving the group on July 6th 2016 having been associated with the organisation in a variety of senior roles for 12 years.
We are delighted to announce the appointment of Andrew Hammond as the new CEO for the Instructus Group. He will start the new role on Monday July 25, 2016.
Thank you to everyone for their participation in the PPR Conference on 21st April.
The analysis of the conference feedback forms (75 returned from 150 participants) shows that the event was very well received as a valuable, stimulating and enjoyable day, particularly for making contact with other Paralegals, learning about the PPR position in the sector, and inspiring individuals’ commitment to joining the PPR.
From the PPR perspective, the event provided a great opportunity to further its aims of establishing itself as the voluntary regulator for Paralegals. Added to this, discussions during the day – particularly in the workshop sessions – have helped identify priority areas for focus such as providing clearer information on the Tiers and the advantages of applying for a PPC .
The majority of delegates who completed the conference feedback forms rated the conference as a whole as “exceeded expectation” or “exceptional”. The keynote speech from Steve Green and the opening address by Rita Leat attracted comments such as “great keynote” and “excellent – really interesting and fascinating speaker”. There was much enthusiasm in the panel discussion which, in a way, reflected the enthusiastic way in which the delegates participated in this activity: ” The panel session was very good but too short!” The closing remarks were also well received “I feel that you are pioneers for the sector!”
The most common rating for the usefulness of the workshops was “exceeded expectation”. The presenters of the workshops were rated by the majority as “exceeded expectation” or “exceptional”. Ian Grant from Heselwood & Grant attracted comments such as “witty, informative and engaging presenter”, “a really great presenter”. Some delegates commented “that the Business workshop was a bit too generic but that the presenter was very good”. One delegate commented “I wanted to attend all of the workshops!”.
The choice of venue was also very popular with the delegates: the majority rated the convenience of the location, its comfort and facilities and the catering as “exceeded expectation or “exceptional”. One delegate tweeted “enjoying a great lunch at the PPR conference”.
Those who were involved in the conference organisation and administration were pleased that most delegates rated the arrangements as “exceeded expectation”, both prior to the conference and on the day itself. Particularly appreciated was the additional “social” information provided in advance of the conference which, it is believed, contributed to the friendly atmosphere of the event. Delegate’s comments included “A very well organised conference with a positive atmosphere. Thanks to all those who put effort into making this happen”.
Feedback from our virtual participants, of which there were at least 29 actively following the conference via #pprConf on Twitter also showed enthusiasm for the proceedings of the day.
58 of the 75 delegates said that they would ‘absolutely’ or ‘very likely’ attend the next conference.
Of course, an enormous amount of effort goes into planning a conference such as this, and we owe thanks to all involved. First we are very grateful to the conference sponsors.
A special vote thanks is also due to the speakers, chairs and the brave panel speakers for their contributions on the day, as well as the hard work devoted to preparing for their roles. We should also recognise that without the commitment of the PPR conference team we would not have enjoyed such a well organised day – as one delegate remarked – “I have attended many conferences but I have never experienced such enthusiasm and engagement by the delegates”.
There are many individuals whose work behind the scenes deserves special recognition and are too many to name but two should be recognised. Our conference co-ordinator on the day Dorothy Campbell did a sterling job keeping everyone on track. Raffaele Corriero our digital expert managed all of the media screens, the presentations both in the plenary session and also assisted all of the workshop presenters.
- Workshop 1 & 5: Developing Your Business – gaining clients
- Workshop 2 & 6: Compliance – Regulation; Insurance; CPD
- Workshop 3: Law Update – Wills and Probate
- Workshop 4 & 8: Professional Paralegal Practising Certificates- from meeting the criteria to application and use
- Workshop 7: Law Update – Conveyancing
The Business Plan has been developed collaboratively by the efforts of the Board of Directors, the Register Regulatory Committee and the Independent Advisory Board.
It highlights the strategy of the PPR and its wider business and regulatory objectives.
The PPR has highlighted that it will focus on delivering a transparent and proportionate voluntary regulatory scheme for its members; promoting the Paralegal Profession as the Fourth Arm of the Legal Profession; increasing consumer protection in the unregulated market and increasing membership of the PPR.
Managing Director, Rita Leat said
“The Business Plan represents our vision for the future of Paralegal Practitioners within the legal framework and clearly outlines our aims and objectives for improving diversity within the sector. Consumer protection is of paramount importance in the delivery of legal services”.
Please download the PPR Business plan
The PPR Managing Director announced today that the first batch of Paralegal Practising Certificates will be sent out to successful applicants this week.
‘This is a proud day for all Paralegals who finally have the professional status that they deserve. Professionalism is gained through the acquisition of knowledge and skills via qualifications, training and experience, with adequate regulation to ensure professional and ethical standards are maintained.
Paralegal Practising Certificates enable suitably qualified and experienced Paralegals to offer legal services to the public whilst the PPR’s voluntary regulatory scheme provides protection to the consumer should things go wrong.’
If you are a Tier 2 or above registered Paralegal under the PPR then you can apply for a PPC and benefit from having the ability to practice direct to consumers.
If you would like to apply for a PPC, please visit the PPR website www.ppr.org.uk/paralegals/practising-certificates/ or telephone 0845 862 7000 for more details.
The Professional Paralegal Register warmly invites you to attend this inaugural Paralegal Conference, designed to benefit all Paralegals regardless of whether you are self-employed private practitioners; employed in company legal departments; local authorities; law practices; the courts or any other type of business. The conference will also benefit law students, legal secretaries and those seeking to find out about a new career in the law.
This 2016 event will cover a range of Paralegal topics that will allow you to receive the most current information within the Paralegal sector and to enable you to think more strategically about the future.
Paralegals are now the fourth arm of the legal profession and quite rightly take their place as professionals in their own right.
We are delighted to announce that our speakers include Steve Green, Chair Office for Legal Complaints; Derek Wood QC, Elisabeth Davies, Chair Legal Services Board Consumer Panel; Espe Fuentes, Head of Legal, Which?Legal; Chris White, Founder Aspiring Solicitors and more to be announced.
There are opportunities to obtain CPD through attending two workshops from a choice of sessions covering skills, business development, updates in law and practice; Paralegal Practising Certificates and PPR compliance.
Come and join the fastest growing arm of the legal profession and meet other Paralegals to network and share good practice.
The conference, including a sit down lunch is just £30.00 for PPR members and £50 for non-members.
A proposal by CILEx Regulation (CRL) to make it easier for paralegals to become qualified legal executives has been rejected as likely to cause “confusion to employers and consumers” by the new voluntary paralegals regulator.
In a speech to this week’s Westminster Legal Policy Forum, David Gilbertson, a board member of the legal executives’ regulator, said its next step would be a period of review following completion of its new schemes for CPD and competence assessment of CILEx independent practitioners.
It would include “looking at the possibility of creating streamlined pathways to enable paralegals to become both Chartered Legal Executives and CILEx Practitioners, without the need for unnecessary duplication of evidence where it is appropriate to do so”.
But Rita Leat, managing director of the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR), a voluntary regulation scheme for paralegals launched in July, said: “The [PPR] regulates all paralegals who work in the unregulated sector and already provide the necessary pathways for specialist paralegal practitioners to operate with paralegal practising certificates without the need to become something else [such as] legal executives…
“It would be less of a repetition of efforts if CILEx would engage more with the PPR to offer a greater diversity of opportunity in the sector and enable consumers to access a more cost-effective legal system. It appears to us to be a muddying of the waters that causes confusion to employers and consumers.”
A spokesman for CRL explained that the streamlining of rules for paralegals could include “aligning some of the evidence we require for a practice rights application with the work-based learning portfolio aspiring Chartered Legal Executives must provide. Paralegals seeking lawyer status either as Chartered Legal Executives, or with CILEx practice rights, would therefore not have to duplicate their evidence unnecessarily.”
He added: “Of course, application for practice rights specifically in conveyancing or probate is open to anyone… Our desire is to make our application processes more streamlined without diminishing the high standards we expect of applicants.”
CILEx last year announced an enquiry into paralegals, reflecting a push by the representative body to assert a leadership role in an area of the legal employment market widely expected to grow over the next decade. At the time, CILEx estimated it had about 12,500 paralegals in its membership, including students, affiliates, associates and graduates who were working in the legal aid field.
Separately, CRL this week launched an eight-week consultation on whether it should become a licensing authority for alternative business structures (ABS), claiming it “receives enquiries regularly from organisations seeking to be licensed by it as a licensed body” under the Legal Services Act 2007.
Currently only entities run by Chartered Legal Executives, CILEx Practitioners or other lawyers can be authorised by CRL, but not those with non-lawyer owners or managers.
The consultation said its current inability to licence ABSs “limits growth, consumer choice and innovative delivery of legal services”.
In particular, it said, “the demographic of the community regulated by [CRL] includes a high proportion of females, ethnic minorities and those from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds, potentially increasing the market for consumers who may seek legal advice from those closer to their own demographic.”
The consultation closes on 29 January 2016.
The title sounds like it could be a movie but fiction it isn’t.
The Professional Paralegal Register (PPR) offers regulation for Paralegals who work outside of the regulated sector. Paralegals make up the majority of legal service providers in England and Wales and yet because of the perceived lack of professionalism, which amounts to a lack of accountability through regulation, they have failed as a profession to propel themselves to the top, alongside the old boys clubs of the Bar, The Law Society and the newer kids on the block CILEX.
I have attended so many forums; strategy groups; lectures; conferences over the last fifteen years where the ‘issue’ of Paralegals has either been ignored or paid lip service to, that I think that those within the legal sector who profess to encourage diversity need to embrace the Paralegal Profession.
Last week I attended the inaugural annual lecture at the LawWorks Annual Pro Bono awards given by Shami Chakrabarti CBE, the Director of Liberty.
This was the first time I had attended an event where Shami was speaking and I sincerely hope it isn’t the last.
Liberty’s slogan is ‘Join Us. Be Heard’, a very simple but powerful message for us all. Liberty does not just focus on our human rights in times of adversity and in war zones, it empowers us to defend our human rights at school, at work, in courtrooms or wherever our human rights are not being observed.
Shami spoke about how it was an honour to celebrate the work done by pro bono lawyers ‘in the dwindling field of legal aid’. Reminiscing about the time when a citizen in the UK ‘could get the legal advice and representation they need rather than the legal advice and representation they could afford’.
The great Joshua Rozenberg interviewed Shami asking her opinion on the Investigatory Powers Bill and the need perhaps for the powers to gather intelligence to be put on a statutory footing. Shami’s response in short was that she agreed on the need for a new Bill but not one that allows for mass rather than targeted surveillance.
Whether you feel that the criminal law is there to deter criminal activity and to punish those who choose to break the law or consider that the criminal law is more about being a code that reflects societal values and should be used as ‘a last resort’, may depend upon whether you have been affected by the unlawful acts of others.
There is no doubt that with Shami at the helm, the vulnerable will be heard and those with power may well be made to feel uncomfortable about decisions they make that affect people’s lives.
I cannot help but make a small comparison in how the message behind the ‘join us be heard’ slogan resonates with how I feel about the Paralegal Profession. There are an estimated 200,000 Paralegals in the UK, rise up and be heard- you all make a real difference to the lives of those who cannot afford high legal costs.
We are in the process of looking at how members of the PPR can be involved more actively in the provision of pro bono work. If you are interested in taking part in a discussion about pro bono work then please get in touch as we are looking for ambassadors to help us take this forwards.