Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Increasing competition in the legal services market

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HM Treasury has just published (30 November 2015) a policy paper: A better deal: boosting competition to bring down bills for families and firms.

It notes that 40% of the average persons post-tax income is spent on buying essential services, including
Housing costs including mortgage repayments: £4,880
Energy £1,280
Clothing £1,180
Insurance £875
Telecoms £725
Water £385
Health products and services £325
Legal and Banking £35
Total £9,685

The policy paper sets out its aim of ensuring that there os more competition in all these markets to drive down costs to the indovidual and small business. This is also part of the drive for increased productivity.

Although only a small part of the total, the provision of legal services is not going to be immune from scrutiny. In a Consultation paper, to be published in Spripng 2016, ideas will be set  out on new business models, and independent regulators, for legal services.
The White Paper states:

2.10 According to a recent survey by YouGov, 62 per cent of adults have used a law firm or solicitor at some point in their lifetime and the cost of legal services is now considered the most important factor when searching for a legal representative. The government wants to ensure that innovative businesses are able to enter the market, providing greater choice for consumers. Alternative business models are around 15 percentage points more likely to introduce new legal
services than other types of regulated solicitors’ firms.
2.11 The government will launch a consultation by spring 2016 on removing barriers to entry for alternative business models in legal services, and on making legal service regulators independent from their representative bodies. This will create a fairer, more balanced regulatory regime for England and Wales that encourages competition, making it easier for businesses such as supermarkets and estate agents among others, to offer legal services like conveyancing, probate and litigation.

But that is not all. The policy paper promises other initiatives as well. These include:

Saving motorists money on their insurance policy
2.13 The government is determined to crack down on the fraud and claims culture. Whiplash claims cost the country £2 billion a year, an average of £90 per motor insurance policy, which is out of all proportion to any genuine injury suffered. As set out at the Spending Review and
Autumn Statement 2015, the government intends to introduce measures to end the right to cash compensation for minor whiplash injuries, and will consult on the details in the New Year. This will end the cycle in which responsible motorists pay higher premiums to cover false claims
by others. It will remove over £1 billion from the cost of providing motor insurance, and the government expects the insurance industry to pass an average saving of £40 to £50 per motor insurance policy on to consumers.

These changes are likely to have significant impact on those firms which specialise in providing legal services to the victims of road accidents.

Injecting innovation into the process of home buying
2.18 The government wants to inject innovation into the process of home buying, ensuring it is modernised and provides consumers with different – and potentially quicker, simpler and cheaper – ways to buy and sell a home. Encouraging new business models (for example, online only estate agents) is key to enhancing price competition in the real estate sector, but these have yet to penetrate the market.
2.19 In addition, emerging findings from government research suggest that consumers incur costs of around £270 million each year when their transactions fall through and they have already spent money on legal fees and surveys, and many more sales are subject to costly delays. Similar issues can affect businesses trying to buy or sell commercial property – the UK ranks 45th for registering property in the World Bank’s Doing Business index, and improving performance will help unlock additional economic growth.
2.20 The government wants to consider and address the way the real estate and conveyancing markets have developed around the existing regulatory frameworks, encourage greater innovation in the conveyancing sector and make the legal process more transparent and efficient. The government will therefore publish a call for evidence in the New Year on homebuying, exploring options to deliver better value and make the experience of buying a home more consumer-friendly.

The knock on implications for changes to conveyancing are also likely to impact significantly on law firms and conveyancers.

In addition, the Government has promised a further review of how the regulatory structure created by the Legal Services Act 2007 is operating, with a view to making it more efficient. Although nothing will happen immiediately, the legal profession faces considerable policy change which will require innovative and and imaginative reponses, which professionals need to start thinking about now.

The text of the paper is at


Written by lwtmp

December 4, 2015 at 5:16 pm

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