Is it a good thing that banks and supermarkets are to be able to sell consumer legal services in England and Wales for the first time following a change in the law?
Is it a good thing that bailed out banks and greedy discount retailers can get their hands on law firms…or any new business for that matter?
Is it a good thing that large institutions with financial muscle and their own agendas will be able to exert influence on a previously independent and regulated sector?
The man from the government (Mr. Djanogly) he say yes…
However, we are not so sure he has the first clue about what he is talking about and we are absolutely certain he is not thinking about protecting the legal rights of the ordinary citizen.
The government says the new Legal Services Act will offer more choice and better value for the public and claims that law firms will benefit from investment and allow them to explore new markets.
Now, putting the old jokes aside for a minute, we think there are enough lawyers out there to provide consumers with a choice. It’s not as if people are struggling to find a solicitor, is it?.
With choice comes value for money. As anyone with an ‘ounce of nous’ knows, when there are a lot of service providers, consumers do well. When the number of providers falls, as it will do if ‘supermarket law’ consolidates legal services under the one brightly lit stainless steel roof, consumers get a worse deal, a much worse deal.
The government says the change would encourage economic growth in the industry and raise the profile of the UK as a first-class legal services market. Hmmm…we thought the UK was already a first class legal services market.
Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said it was a “landmark day” for the legal industry.
(That’s true, if you define landmark as ‘charter for profiteering at the public’s expense.’ )
“Our legal services are already rated among the best in the world, used by millions of people around the globe as well as in the UK, and these changes will set them up to move to new heights. They will enable firms to set up multi-disciplinary practices and provide opportunities for growth,” he said.
Eh? What? How??
“Potential customers will find legal services become more accessible, more efficient and more competitive.” Ye gods. The asylum keys have indeed been handed to the inmates
Under new trading bodies, known as Alternative Business Structures (ABS), lawyers will be able to work in mixed-practices offering financial, legal and other advice, or be based at different kinds of businesses. Well we simply just don’t see a surge of demand from the profession for this new ‘freedom.’
The government believes that legislation and regulation has restricted the management, ownership and financing of firms providing legal services for hundreds of years. Well, duh? The regulation of the legal profession is the single most effective guarantee that ensures professional standards and ethical conduct for all consumers.
Do you think that the burning access to justice issue for the consumer is the financing of legal services? We don’t either.
We echo the comments of Clive Sutton, of the Solicitors Sole Practitioners Group, urged the government to reconsider the “untried and untested innovation” which he said had only previously been adopted by two states in Australia.
He said: “The government seem unconcerned that the introduction of Alternative Business Structures puts at risk the independence of legal advice, via the profit interests of commercial owners.”
Despite the title Tesco Law, the supermarket has said it has “no current plans to offer legal services”. But the Co-operative was among the first stores to say it was interested in offering a legal business.
Similar legislation was passed in Scotland in October 2010 when MSPs at Holyrood backed its Legal Services Bill.
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