The ongoing competency of lawyers is again to be looked at following an announcement by the Legal Services Board (LSB) that it will develop and consult on a more robust approach to ensuring lawyers remain competent throughout their careers.
The new report notes that while legal regulators have put in place comprehensive measures to ensure the competency of those entering the legal profession, there are fewer formal or consistent checks in look at ongoing professional competence. The LSB’s report also considers approaches taken in other sectors such as financial services, aviation, healthcare, engineering and teaching, which generally have more systematic ongoing competence checks.
The LSB has stressed that the ongoing competence of legal professionals’ is vital to ensuring consumers’ trust and confidence in the sector and to help avoid harm from poor quality legal services. It believes that it must assist in developing standards of regulation in the legal services sector and will develop and consult on new expectations for regulators, noting that these proposals are likely to encompass high-level expectations that legal regulators should:
- set out the standards of competence that legal professionals should meet at the point of entry and throughout their careers; and
- have mechanisms in place to:
- identify legal professionals who are failing to meet those standards;
- identify areas of increased risk to consumers;
- respond when legal professionals fall short of the standards of competence; and
- provide appropriate protection when there is an increased risk of harm to consumers.
Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Sector, said:
‘Public trust and confidence are integral to the credibility of the legal services sector, and consumers need to know that their lawyers have the necessary, up-to-date skills, knowledge and attributes to help them with their legal problems.
‘Many people assume that legal professionals are subject to ongoing formal reviews of their competence, but there are, in fact, very few routine checks once a lawyer has qualified. Legal regulators typically do not have systems or processes in place to identify or respond to concerns about competence. This is unusual and out of step with other professions which routinely adopt tools to ensure ongoing competence to promote public trust and confidence, and protect consumers from harm.
‘We need to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society, which includes ensuring lawyers remain competent throughout their careers. This will help increase trust in legal services, raise standards and improve access to justice.
‘We look forward to discussing options with stakeholders, ahead of a formal consultation later this year.’