LSB highlights diversity of Costs Lawyer profession
The Legal Services Board (LSB) has highlighted diversity in the Costs Lawyer community as one of the successes in building a diverse and inclusive profession.
In a report, State of Legal Services 2020 – looking back at the progress made in the first decade of the Legal Services Act 2007 going live in 2009 – the LSB said the data painted “a mixed picture” of the composition of the profession, with the pace of progress in closing attainment gaps at senior levels of the profession and in the judiciary “too slow”.
It went on: “There have been some successes. The year 2019 marked one hundred years of women working in the law, but also the milestone of there being more female than male solicitors for the first time. Compared to the UK workforce average, there are higher proportions of BAME lawyers in most professional groups, while there is parity of both black solicitors and barristers on this basis. There are more LGBTQ+ lawyers than the UK population average.
“Some professional groups have particularly strong records on specific protected characteristics: three-quarters of legal executives and licensed conveyancers are female, while three in ten costs lawyers are from BAME backgrounds.”
More broadly, the report said: “While the legislation may not yet have led to all the gains its proponents hoped for, it has not precipitated the sorts of problems its opponents had foreseen and has delivered some very real and important successes.
“Following the growth in ABSs, consumers enjoy more choice than 10 years ago. Regulatory reforms have also enabled more legal professionals to set up in business and provide services in broader areas of law. Providers view regulation as much less of a barrier to innovation than in the past.
“Consumer satisfaction has improved, confounding critics of the reforms who predicted a race to the bottom in standards. The corporate sector has powered strong economic growth.”
Research estimates that around 7.5m adults and 1.8m small businesses need legal advice every year – but the LSB said 3.6m people have an unmet legal need each year, while half of small businesses deal with their issue without using a lawyer.
Legal Ombudsman seeks 19% budget hike
The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) – which is paid for by a levy on each branch of the legal profession – is planning a 19% increase in its budget for 2021/22 to £15.3m, and a further 6% the year after to £16.2m.
LeO’s performance was under serious scrutiny even before Covid-19 disrupted operations further – with straightforward complaints taking six months to complete, while the pre-assessment pool of cases received but not yet allocated to an investigator could hit 5,000 by next spring.
In her introduction to a consultation on the proposed business plan and budget for next year, Elisabeth Davies, who took over in April as chair of the Office for Legal Complaints (the board that oversees LeO), said the impact of Covid-19, “combined with the inevitable risks created by last year’s standstill budget and significant changes in leadership, has placed the scheme in an unsustainable position”.
A two-year recovery plan has been drawn up to address “the impact of repeated years of under-investment in people, failure to prioritise the quality of management, and an approach which has focused on short-term gains, rather than sustainable change”.
But she said this alone would not be sufficient: “Additional resource is required to resolve complaints at a rate that meets current demand, addresses the additional impact of Covid-19, reduces the time customers wait for an investigation to start, and to ensure insight from casework is shared, enabling the sector to improve complaints-handling and tackle the root causes of consumer dissatisfaction.”
Solicitor rebuked for not sending bills
A solicitor who failed on 14 occasions to send bills or other written notification of costs to his clients before transferring funds from client to office account has been rebuked by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
A notice published this week said that Montague Frankel, who at the time was practising at DWFM Beckman in central London, was in breach of rule 17.2 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 and principles 4 and 5 of the SRA Principles.
It said Mr Frankel is retired and no longer works in legal practice.