Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 9’ Category

Research into Alternative Business Structures: the Legal Services Board

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Since licensing began in 2011 there have been 950 ABS licences issued. As of March 2017 there were 892 active licences.  In April 2017, the Legal Services Board published a significant report into ABS. It sought to address 4 questions, which I have adapted from the report and which I try to summarise here:

1.What kind of investment activity has there been in ABS?

These businesses are predominantly existing legal service businesses converting to ABS status, with one in five respondents to our survey being new firms. Three fifths of ABS have less than 50% non-lawyer ownership. Just under one in five ABS are wholly owned by non-lawyers, with a similar proportion being fully owned by lawyers but having some proportion of non-lawyer managers….

The research shows that the majority of ABS firms (66%) either have already invested or are planning to do so, since they gained their ABS licence. These investments have mainly been made to hire more staff, increase marketing activity or to purchase IT. The LSB sees this as evidence of the increased scale that allowing non-lawyer ownership was designed to enable.

2.Is the market attractive to all sources of finance?

The survey shows ABS firms accessing a wide range of sources of finance, and only a small proportion of ABS indicating difficulties in accessing finance. The most frequent source of funding for investments was business profits or cash reserves which were used by 49% of those who had invested in their business. Just over a quarter of investments were solely funded us ing a loan from a bank, and a quarter were solely funded using the business’ overdraft facility.

External sources of equity finance accounted for only a minority of investment funding sources either as the sole or joint source of investment funds, and only 12% of ABS had used any form of external finance. Partnerships are more likely to use debt funding for finance, with 55% using loans or overdrafts, but none had used external investment. Companies limited by guarantee had the highest proportionate use of any form of external funding, with 24% issuing shares, investment from private equity, or becoming a subsidiary of another company.

3. What do investors think of the legal services market?

According to the investors interviewed, the legal sector is seen as a ‘sleepy’ market with opportunities for investors to grow their investment capital by improving efficiency within the business itself. They appear to have concerns about the ability to exit the legal sector once their investment has matured, although there are some examples of private equity investors having sold on their investment and exited the sector.

Except perhaps in the personal injury sector, it would appear that bank lending is a substitute for external capital. For the firm this means they do not have to cede ownership control of part of their business. In addition, there is a view that many firms do not present financial information in the ways investors expect and/or have a weak grasp of the value of their businesses.

This might explain the investor’s perspective of the legal sector as being reluctant to seek investment from private equity firms, and reports of investors struggling to find appropriate firms in which to invest. While the overall size of the market and the scale of businesses operating may limit opportunities for some investors, the LSB thinks that cultural norms, governance, and non-commercial financial management practices in some businesses are likely to be more important factors.

4. Are there any regulatory barriers to investment?

Only 6% of ABS identified some aspect of legal services regulation that prevented them accessing finance. Nor does the cost of legal services regulation appear to be a barrier… However there is anecdotal evidence of some areas of regulation causing concern to investors. These includes restrictions on ownership and picking up liabilities for historic complaints and insurance claims.

Only 1.5% of ABS identified some aspect of wider regulation that prevented them accessing finance. The regulatory barriers to investment cited by the investor and investment consultant we spoke to relate mainly to wider regulatory and governmental activity, particularly in relation to personal injury reforms

Conclusion:

The potential link between investment and enabling better access to legal services is well–rehearsed elsewhere. However, investment remains an under-explored area of research and generally licensing authorities have not used their data to understand trends in investment and financing. [Overall it may be concluded that] levels of innovation are not increasing.

The dynamics of competition create incentives for suppliers to increase productivity through innovation, which lowers costs and hence prices through time. This is likely to involve taking a different approach to delivering a service, or developing new services completely. In the absence of strong competition, there is insufficient impetus for law firms to take the greater risks (and rewards) involved with using external capital.

Until these incentives change the LSB thinks there is unlikely to be significant growth in the use of external capital by ABS firms.

The report can bee seen at http://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/news_publications/LSB_News/PDF/2017/20170613_LSB_publishes_investment_in_legal_services_research.html

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Written by lwtmp

October 19, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Regulation of Claims Management Companies: The Financial Guidance and Claims Bill 2017

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In March 2016, the Government announced that it planned to change the ways in which the regulation of Claims Management Companies is organised.

At present, this work is undertaken by a special unit within the Ministry of Justice. What is planned is that this work should be transferred to the Fincancial Conduct Authority – which has broad regulatory oversight of the financial services sector.

In the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, which was published in June 2017, legislative proposals have been set out which – when the Bill is enacted – will achieve this objective. Clauses in the Bill will make amendments to the Financial Services and Market Act 2000 to enable the Financial Conduct Authority to regulate claims management company activity as a ‘regulated activity’ under the Act.

In addition, clauses in the Bill provide for the transfer of complaints-handling responsibility from the Legal Ombudsman to the Financial Ombudsman Service. This will allow the Financial Ombudsman Service to take over jurisdiction to investigate and determine consumer complaints about the service provided by the claims management companies.

The Financial Conduct Authority will also be given power to impose a cap on the fees that claims management companies can charge for their services.

These seem to me sensible reforms which should offer better protection to consumers who use Claims Management Companies and to protect companies against malpractice by those companies.

The Bill has started its progress through Parliament. I anticipated the measures will be enacted sometime in 2018, with implementation shortly thereafter.

The Bill can be viewed at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2017-2019/0001/18001en03.htm

Recent annual reports on the work of the Claims Management Regulator can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/claims-management-regulator-annual-reports

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

August 26, 2017 at 11:07 am

Book review: Ombudsmen at the Crossroads

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This is a interesting review of a book by Nick O’Brian and Mary Serevinatne about the now defunct Legal Services Ombudsman (now replace by the Office for Legal Complaints). Written by the current Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman, Rob Behrens, both the book and the review offer interesting insight into the role of ombudsmen and how they may better serve the public.

Source: Book review: Ombudsmen at the Crossroads

Written by lwtmp

May 18, 2017 at 9:26 am

Increasing diversity in the Judiciary

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There has long been a desire to see more female and black and minority ethnic (BAME) people appointed to the judiciary. The present Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas has promoted a number of initiatives designed to build on work already started by the Judicial Appointments Commission.

In April 2017, the Judicial Diversity Committee of the Judges’ Council published its latest report on progress together with – for the first time – an Action Plan for activities to be undertaken in 2017-2018.

The headline objectives of the Committee are set out in the report as follows:

In the next 12 months, we will –

  • continue our dialogue with BAME lawyers better to understand the barriers they face and identify what more the judiciary can do to support them;

  • work with the Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx to ensure that we are doing all we can to reach the broadest range of talent;

  • encourage more networking among the existing courts and tribunals judiciary;

  • run more workshops to support a greater number of candidates from under-represented groups to prepare for the selection process;

  • further develop our communications to potential candidates and those who have an interest in judicial diversity; and

  • improve the monitoring and evaluation of our initiatives.

While these aims may seem  little bland, detailed reading of the report reveals that there is intended to be an extensive programme of workshops, mentoring, outreach and other initiative designed to encourage those from groups currently under-represented in the judiciary to think about law and a judicial career.

The report also provides a link to a number of judges talking about their experience in becoming a judge – designed to inspire others to contemplate following their path. See https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/about-the-judiciary/judges-career-paths/videos-judges-talk-about-their-judicial-careers/

The report is at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/judicial-diversity-committee-of-the-judges-council-report-on-progress-and-action-plan-2016-17/

 

 

 

Dealing with whiplash injuries: the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017

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For some time the Government (under pressure from the Insurance industry) has been concerned about the numbers of claims and the aggregate amount of those claims for minor injuries arising from Road Traffic Accidents.

Between November 2016 and January 2017 the Government consulted on a package of measures to tackle the continuing high number and cost of whiplash claims and their impact on motor insurance premiums.

The Government’s  concern was that the volume of road traffic accident related personal injury claims has remained static over the last three years and is over fifty per cent higher than 10 years ago (460,000 claims registered in 2005/06 28 compared with 770,000 in 2015/16) despite a reduction in the number of road traffic accidents reported to the police and improvements in vehicle safety, for example better head restraints.

It was noted that similar improvements in vehicle safety in other jurisdictions have led to a reduction in both the number of claims and motor insurance premiums.

The Government’s view is that the continuing high number of low value claims increases the cost of motor insurance premiums, paid by motorists in England and Wales.  The Government has set out its view that the level of compensation paid to claimants for these claims is also out of proportion to the level of injury suffered. It has therefore decided to  introduce measures to disincentivise minor, exaggerated and fraudulent claims.

Part 5 addresses this matter.

Clause 62 enables the Lord Chancellor to specify in regulations, in the form of a tariff, the damages that a court may award for pain, suffering and loss of amenity (“PSLA”) for relevant whiplash injuries sustained in road traffic accidents,  in those cases where the duration of the injury does not exceed or is not expected to exceed two years. The tariff will provide for an ascending scale of fixed sum payments with the relevant tariff for a particular case identified by reference to the severity of the injury. Regulations may specify different sums for different descriptions of injury.

There will be  power to deviate from the tariff in exceptional circumstances.

Clause 64  bans regulated persons (basically solicitors and barristers, legal executives and alternative business structures) from making or accepting a payment in settlement, or inviting, or offering to settle an RTA related whiplash claim without appropriate medical evidence.

Whether these changes will actually lead to any reduction in insurance costs is currently hard to determine, particularly given other recently announced changes that may result in a general increase in awards of damages for personal injury.

Written by lwtmp

March 8, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Transforming the Justice System: the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017

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Enromous changes to the ways in which courts – both criminal and civil – and tribunals operate have already been foreshadowed in a number of policy documents published during 2016. Parts 2 to 4 of the Prisons and Courts Bill contain provisions that will give statutory authority to the changes that have been proposed.

The headline provisions may be set out as follows:

Part 2 creates new procedures in civil, family, tribunal and criminal matters.

It makes changes to court procedures in the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts to make processes and case management more efficient.

It allows some offenders charged with summary-only, non-imprisonable offences to be convicted and given standard penalties using a new online procedure.

It extends the use of live audio and video links, and ‘virtual’ hearings where no parties are present in the court room but attend by telephone or video conferencing facilities.

It makes provision which will apply across the civil, criminal and tribunal jurisdictions to ensure public participation in proceedings which are heard virtually (by the streaming of hearings), including the creation of new criminal offences to guard against abuse, for example by recording such stramed hearings.

It creates a new online procedure rules committee that will be able to create new online procedure rules in relation to the civil, tribunal and family jurisdictions.

It bans cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses  – in particular those who have been the subject of domestic abuse – in certain family cases.

It confers the power to make procedure rules for employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the Tribunal Procedure Committee and extends the membership of the Committee to include an employment law practitioner and judge or non-legal member.

 

Part 3 contains measures relating to the organisation and functions of courts and tribunals.

It extends the role of court and tribunal staff authorised to exercise judicial functions giving the relevant procedure rules committees the power to authorise functions in their respective jurisdictions.

It abolishes local justice areas, enabling magistrates to be appointed on a national basis, not just to a specific local justice area.

It replaces statutory declarations with statements of truth in certain traffic and air quality enforcement proceedings.

It makes reforms to the arrangements for the composition of employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

It enables the High Court to make attachment of earnings orders for the recovery of money due under a judgment debt, as far as practicable, on the same basis as in the County Court.

Part 4 contains measures relating to the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission.

It enables more flexible deployment of judges by enabling them to sit in different jurisdictions.

It brings the arrangements for the remuneration of judges and members of employment tribunals – currently undertaken by the Secretary of State for Employment – under the remit of the Lord Chancellor.

It rationlises the roles of  judges in leadership positions who will support a reformed courts and tribunals system. (This includes provision to abolish the statutory post of Justice Clerk; this role will continue, but those qualified to be Clerks will also be able to undertake analogous work in other court/tribunal contexts.)

It  gives the Judicial Appointments Commission the power to carry out more work (not directly related to judicials appointments) on a cost-recovery basis.

Source, Explanatory Notes to the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, available at https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0145/en/17145en02.htm

Competition in Legal Services: new report

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The Competition and Market Authority Final Report on legal services was published in December. Its interim report was noted in this blog in July 2016.

The CMA found that competition in legal services for individual and small business consumers is not working as well as it might. In particular, there was a lack of digital comparison tools to make comparisons easier for consumers. Lack of competition meant some providers can charge higher prices when substantially cheaper prices are available for comparable services.

In response to these findings, the CMA set out a package of measures which challenges providers and regulators to help customers better navigate the market and get value for money. These changes were drawn up after discussions with key stakeholders, including the 8 frontline legal regulators, and will be overseen by the Legal Services Board, which will report on progress.

They include:

A requirement on providers to display information on price, service, redress and regulatory status to help potential customers. This would include publishing pricing information for particular services online (only 17% of firms do so at present).

Revamping and promoting the existing Legal Choices website to be a starting point for customers needing help, information and guidance on how to navigate the market and purchase services.

Facilitating the development of comparison sites and other intermediaries to allow customers to compare providers in one place by making data already collected by regulators available. At present only 22% of people compare the services on offer before appointing a lawyer.

Encouraging legal service providers to engage with feedback and review platforms to ensure that customers can benefit from the experience of others before making their choice.

Recommending that the Ministry of Justice looks at whether to extend protection from existing redress schemes to customers using ‘unauthorised’ providers.

In addition, the CMA considered the impact of legal services regulation on competition. The CMA found that whilst the current system is not a major barrier, it may not be sustainable in the long term. In particular, the framework is not sufficiently flexible to apply proportionate risk-based regulation which reflects differences across legal services which could harm competition. The CMA therefore also recommends that the Ministry of Justice reviews the current framework to make it more flexible and targeted at protecting consumers in areas where it is most needed.

The Legal Services Board has welcomed the report and announced that it will publish its response in due course. The Ministry of Justice response is also awaited.

For more detail https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cma-demands-greater-transparency-from-legal-service-providers