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LRSA reports

08 Dec 2020 / regulation Print

Reform school

The LSRA has issued two new reports, on legal education and on the unification of two branches of the profession.

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) has issued two new reports – the first on setting standards for legal education; the second on the potential unification of the solicitors’ and barristers’ professions – though it concludes that this appears to be premature, for the time being at least.

The reports were published on 19 November and have been submitted to the Minister for Justice.

The Law Society has welcomed the publication of both reports.

Director general Ken Murphy confirmed that their contents will be studied in detail. However, he observed that an initial review of the recommendations in the two reports was that “they contain no surprises”. 

Education reform

Setting Standards: Legal Practitioner Education and Training reforms to define the competence and standards required to practise as a solicitor or barrister. It also recommends the establishment of a statutory framework to accredit existing providers of legal practitioner education and training, as well as allowing, for the first time, new providers to be accredited to provide professional training for solicitors and barristers.

The report makes 12 important recommendations for the reform of legal education, with two in particular being central: (a) the development of clear definition of the competence and standards required to practise as a solicitor or barrister, and (b) the introduction of a statutory framework to establish a new and independent Legal Practitioner Education and Training Committee. The committee would be statutorily required and empowered to:

  • Set the competency framework for legal practitioner education and training,
  • Develop a common set of competencies and standards for admission to professional legal training,
  • Ensure that existing providers of legal education and training adhere to the standards required by the competency framework on an ongoing basis,
  • Scrutinise and accredit new providers of legal education and training, based on set criteria established by the committee,
  • Monitor the quality of legal education and training,
  • Encourage innovation in the provision of legal education and training,
  • Encourage diversity in legal education and training, and
  • Engage with key stakeholders in legal education and training.

On the report’s two central recommendations, Ken Murphy welcomes one, but questions the other: “Externally approved competency standards make sense. Indeed, the Society’s Law School has previously requested Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) to engage with it in such a process.”

He found it a little disappointing, however, that the LSRA had not taken on board the Society’s concerns about the proposed setting up of a new entity, the Legal Practitioner Education and Training Committee.

“The role of this proposed new statutory body, in the Society’s submission to the LSRA, could easily be undertaken by QQI, now that the latter’s role has been strengthened in legislation as recently as 2019,” he remarked.

“The creation by legislation of a new quango to perform this role, it still seems to us, would be disproportionate, unnecessary and costly.”

Unification ‘premature’

In the second report, Greater than the Sum of Its Parts? Consideration of Unification of the Solicitors’ Profession and Barristers’ Profession, LSRA concludes that, at this stage in its regulatory timeline, it would be premature to recommend that the two branches be unified: “Having considered the views of respondents to this consultation and having analysed arrangements in other jurisdictions, there is a lack of compelling evidence to support a recommendation that the profession be unified.”

The LSRA observes that, regardless of the exact form it may take, the introduction of a formally unified legal profession in Ireland could reasonably be expected to have far-reaching consequences – not only for legal practitioners themselves, but also for consumers of legal services, the operation of the courts, and the wider administration of justice: “This is not to say that there is not an ongoing case for the authority to continue to examine areas of legal-services provision where structural improvements and efficiencies are warranted. This work is fundamental to the fulfilment of its statutory objectives under the act.”

The matter will be looked at again within five years, when the LSRA anticipates that the landscape for legal services’ provision will have evolved sufficiently in order for the question to be reconsidered.

Ken Murphy welcomed the LSRA’s key recommendation ‘that the solicitors’ profession and barristers’ profession should not be unified at this time’. While it is “no surprise”, he remarked, “the report’s conclusion is well-reasoned, wise and utterly persuasive”.

Changing landscape

Pending, proposed, and potential reforms will change the landscape for legal-service-delivery in the years ahead and will have an impact on the regulatory framework for barristers and solicitors, the LSRA says.

“The impact of these reforms would be to introduce new methods of legal-service delivery, as well as expanding the scope of existing models,” it continues.

The report says that: “Relaxing the rules on barristers forming partnerships with other barristers and/or solicitors will offer more flexibility to legal practitioners, allowing them to work together and provide different and more efficient and competitively priced legal services to consumers.

“Legal partnerships, by allowing barristers and solicitors to work together within one business entity, mean that consumers can visit a solicitor and barrister operating in the same premises as a ‘one-stop shop’ for the provision of legal services.”

The authority has also undertaken to give further consideration to the introduction of multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs) – another business model contemplated by the Legal Services Regulation Act. The report notes that the introduction of legal partnerships should assist it in further considering the introduction of MDPs.

New business structures

The report adds that the act contains a number of provisions that “have the potential to substantially alter the rules of the legal profession by lifting existing restrictions on barristers, allowing them to operate in new business structures and further facilitating movement between the profession of barrister and solicitor.”

In addition, section 212 of the act (commenced on 7 October 2019) provides that a barrister whose name is entered on the Roll of Practising Barristers may take up employment, and as part of that employment provide legal services for his or her employer, including by appearing on behalf of that employer in a court, tribunal or forum for arbitration.

Profession of conveyancer

The report also notes that section 34(1)(c) of the act requires the authority to report on the creation of a new profession of conveyancer.

It says the introduction of a new profession of conveyancer in Ireland could have a significant impact on the solicitors’ profession, as conveyancing work
is among what are referred to as ‘reserved legal services’ that can only be provided by solicitors.

Read and print a PDF of this article here.

Mary Hallissey
Mary Hallissey is a journalist at Gazette.ie