What to make of the SRA’s Independence Survey?

The SRA’s polling data which – I would say impressionistically – has garnered unusually high levels of media interest outside of the legal press – is worth a quick look. I’m not sure how relevant it is to the current debate about extent of the SRA’s independence from the Law Society. As the questions are phrased and asked, the survey respondents may have got the impression that profession was self-regulated and independence was being considered.   The truth is much more nuanced; in fact, it’s not really like that at all. What the SRA and the Law Society are really fighting about is the difference between substantial independence and total independence from the profession’s representative body.  Oh, and money.  It’s a fair and important fight but I’m not sure the consumer poll gives us much insight into either question.  And I say that as an instinctive supporter of a more independent model.  Indeed, to prove the point, I look forward to the Law Society conducting a futile counter-poll which says something like, Do you agree that the experts should have a say in regulation of legal services or do you think that faceless* bureaucrats who will pander to government and not protect your interests should build their own empire.

Even so, there is something of interest in the data.  That is the extent to which the public appear to mistrust self-regulation.  Only 6% though that solicitors should be self-regulated. No matter how much one wonders what the public understood by self-regulation, or whether they understood that solicitors aren’t currently self-regulated, that is a very low figure indeed.  The second  thing of interest is the very high proportion of the public felt that solicitors needed to be regulated: 86%.  I wonder how much that figure will get quoted when the SRA are proposing further deregulation.  We shall see.

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* They’re not really faceless. And I don’t really think the Law Society would conduct such a poll, although some regulators have been almost that dumb in the past.

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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2 Responses to What to make of the SRA’s Independence Survey?

  1. Lurking beneath the surface of this issue are some much larger ones:

    – do the interests of competition in the consumer market require greater freedom to provide legal services?
    – should all providers of legal services (and not just the current, rather random list of reserved activities) be subject to regulation? Why should solicitors be more heavily regulated than their competitors?
    – should that regulation be independent?
    – should that regulation be a minimum standard rather than the heavy regulation to which solicitors are currently subject, even after the SRA has taken a more “outcomes focussed” approach?
    – If solicitors choose to adopt heavier or more detailed regulation than the minimum standards, should this be a matter of choice by solicitors, under the control of solicitors? If I and my fellow solicitors think it is a good thing for solicitors to be graduates, or to have a 2-year training contract, why should this be anyone else’s concern, provided consumers have access to providers of legal services?

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