The merits of a closed shop

The Legal Services Institute – a “think tank” established by the College of Law, so likely to favour, rather than attack, the legal profession – has published a thought provoking paper: The Regulation of Legal Services: What is the Case for Reservation?

By “reservation” it refers to the closed shop that exists, prohibiting anyone but qualified lawyers preparing certain legal documents – property transfers, oaths for executors, for instance – or conducting certain legal work – litigation, for instance – in exchange for a fee; the effect is to “reserve” this work to regulated lawyers

The trend over the past decades has been to open us the closed shop, allowing more legal work to be done by a wider range of businesses. This trend will take a huge leap forward later this year when “alternative business structures” are allowed to carry out the whole range of legal work directly for the public without (necessarily) using solicitors, licensed conveyancers, etc for this. It is expected to result in organisations such as Capita, the RAC and supermarkets offering a broad range of legal services to the public.

In this paper, the LSI challenges the wisdom of this and, indeed, argues for the extension of reserved work. Some will, no doubt, see this as a rearguard action on the part of the legal profession, but the paper sets out some very cogent and effective arguments to the effect that extending the scope of reserved work would be in the public interest.

To quote some of its summarised findings –

  • reservation can be justified on the basis of the public interest in securing public good (as a matter of principle and without further evidence) and consumer protection (where sufficient evidence exists to support it);
  • the current reservations for rights of audience, the conduct of litigation, court-related reserved instrument activities, the administration of oaths, and notarial activities can be justified in the public interest;
  • a strong public good case could be made for the current property-related reserved instrument reservation to be broadened to include all conveyancing services;
  • a strong public good case could be made for immigration advice and services to become reserved legal activities;
  • a strong consumer protection case could be made for the preparation of wills and powers of attorney to become reserved legal activities

A bit nerdy, maybe, and probably far too late to influence the current trend, but interesting reading for lawyers, at least.

Now to tackle another LSI paper: “Law Firms and the Formula for Success” 😉

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