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Whilst programs and initiatives are one thing, overcoming a legacy of tradition and timelessness is not going to happen overnight.
With so much publicity, something has to change! Never underestimate the power of press so the saying goes, but what about the power of the people, of clients, of those who work within the legal sector, and of those who are charged with leading and overseeing legal practices; how much can they influence change?
In our last newsletter we wrote about innovating legal practices, about a joint SRA and LSB survey which revealed that 80% of practices felt they had the management structure to make innovation possible. But whilst the spirit is willing, action is not always as forthcoming. So it was hardly surprising to us that in one of his first speeches since taking the position of Chair of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) Sir Andrew Burns counselled that outmoded working practices pose a risk to the bar as well as limiting the ability of barristers to meet client needs.
In a wide-ranging speech, Sir Andrew also promoted the idea of boosting diversity in order that barristers more accurately reflected the diverse cultural background of their potential clients. He also commented that the BSB is working to create more agile and innovative ways of delivering legal services. One example of this is the current consultation which the BSB is running in respect of barristers being able to work outside of authorised law firms. According to the BSB “the current rule is preventing new ways of working and so limiting innovation in the market and constraining choice for consumers.”
Sir Andrew is not alone in his desire for reform. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has also recently announced a number of changes, not least of which is a move towards a more conciliatory and adult relationship with solicitors. SRA Chief Executive, Paul Philip, is looking for the organisation to cut down on bureaucracy and move away from being a rules-based regulator towards an outcomes-based regulator. Addressing the COLPs and COFAs conference Mr Phillips said “Just as you need to adapt so the SRA needs to adapt as well.”
If you add these initiatives to others such as the Law Society’s mentoring program and growing numbers of alternative business structures it is possible to believe the tide has turned and that the legal profession is well on its way to change. But whilst programs and initiatives are one thing, overcoming a legacy of tradition and timelessness is not going to happen overnight. For true change to happen, the spirit of change and of innovation has to be embedded not only in regulatory bodies but also into law practices across the country. The publicity is there, the willingness to change is there, now it is time for action.