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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Big shake-up for legal profession
Lord Falconer
Big changes on the way for the legal profession
An independent service for complaints against lawyers is going to be set up by the government.

An Office of Legal Complaints (OLC) is one of several reforms targeted at the legal profession in England and Wales.

A Legal Services Board (LSB) will regulate professional bodies such the Law Society and the Bar, who have previously dealt with complaints.

And other professionals will be able to set up in business with lawyers and form combined firms.

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, said the new law would "modernise legal services, making them more responsive to the demands of the market place and of consumers."

He added that the plans would "brings closer the prospect of competitive 'one-stop shops' where consumers can access a range of legal and non-legal services."

Putting consumers first

The changes are outlined in a White Paper entitled "The Future of Legal Services - Putting Consumers First".

I don't see why consumers should not be able to get legal services as easily as they can buy a tin of beans
Department of Constitutional Affairs Minister Bridget Prentice

Under the new proposals The Law Society and the Bar will be stripped of their ability to deal with complaints against their members after many years of complaints that they are too slow and ineffective.

Now, they will have to seek authorisation from the legal services board to retain their other functions such as regulating their members.

The plans have been given a warm welcome by consumer groups..

Which?, formerly the Consumers Association, said: "This is great news for consumers who have struggled to have their complaints heard under the system managed by the professions."

The National Consumer Council added: "It deserves a big welcome."

The Legal Services Ombudsman Zahida Manzoor said she was delighted: "This is a once in lifetime opportunity to put things right for the consumer."

But the Law Society, which represents solicitors, was less enthusiastic.

Although pleased that the government is finally implementing its reforms, Law Society President Kevin Martin warned: "The new regulatory arrangements need to respect the importance of having an independent legal profession.

"This means that the composition of the LSB should be demonstrably independent of government."

Claims farms

The proposals follow a review of legal services regulation by Sir David Clementi, which was published last December.

An ambulance
Ambulance chasing firms will soon be regulated

One element of the new legislation is that so-called 'claims farms', firms which encourage people to make compensation claims, will be regulated for the first time.

They will be first in line for regulation when the Government introduces a new Compensation Bill in Parliament later this year.

This will bring them under government supervision, as part of its attempt to restrict what is seen as the growing compensation culture in the UK.

The LSB will also oversee regulation of other legal professions, such as notaries, trade mark attorneys, patent agents, licensed conveyancers and legal executives.

Although people other than lawyers will now be able to set up and own legal firms, this will depend on them being judged fit and proper.

The change opens the way for combined firms of lawyers, surveyors and accountants.

The Department of Constitutional Affairs Minister Bridget Prentice said:

" I don't see why consumers should not be able to get legal services as easily as they can buy a tin of beans."

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