From the President
The changing legal marketplace
Working in the law remains a wonderful career – but it is not the same profession that many of us joined when we first qualified. It has had to change to meet the challenges and realities of the world around it.
It might not be a popular view, but I find that exciting. I have seen for myself how different law firms and solicitors are innovating to deliver legal services to their clients in new and inspiring ways.
That does not detract from the difficulties many of us find ourselves in. Solicitors are facing a pretty torrid time at the moment, and they are not helped by government proposals designed to slash legal aid and making it difficult to effectively administer justice.
If we are truly interested in preserving access to justice, we cannot allow ourselves to be knocked off course by noise or misinformation.
Be in no doubt that we think the current proposals for price-competitive tendering (PCT) are unworkable. We have taken groups of practitioners to meet the secretary of state, who quite rightly told the minister his plans wouldn’t work. We believed it then, and we believe it now.
But PCT in and of itself is not an objective of the Ministry of Justice. Consolidation of the market is. Chris Graying wants to reshape the delivery of services to make the supplier base more efficient, and therefore more sustainable, in the medium term.
We can’t just tell the government what we are against; we have to tell them what it is we are for. This is why we have worked extremely hard to find another, better way to achieve a limited degree of market consolidation without resorting to PCT.
The announcement by Grayling last week that he will not remove client choice is good news, but I believe the Ministry of Justice still feels they can develop a model of PCT that allows for this.
PCT is the wrong approach. We want it to be shelved indefinitely, and for firms to be given long-term contracts, which will provide them with commercial certainty.
Our proposals ensure that any firms meeting agreed standards would be entitled to continue doing the work. This would also give firms a period of time to adapt to the proposals, and include exemptions for rural areas where consolidation is an unrealistic goal.
We are absolutely not proposing there should be cuts as part of our package, but if the Ministry of Justice decides to impose rate cuts, we cannot and will not be able to stop them.
It isn’t going to be an easy path, and we will have to accept some unwelcome changes along the way, but we will always have three core non-negotiable objectives in mind:
- Client choice must be retained as an important driver of quality, and a basic principle of a healthy competitive market.
- Suppliers must be given certainty over the future shape and size of the market, and their place in it, to allow for sustainable investment.
- High standards must be enshrined at the heart of any new system.
Unity is vital
But as we continue to lobby the government to persuade it to adopt a different approach, we need the support of the whole profession. Unity is vital if we are to achieve a more positive result than the government intends. We all need to work together to prevent this travesty of justice.
After my presidential term ends, I will continue to speak out against attacks on justice. I hope you will too. Thank you for your support over the past year.
President of the Law Society of England and Wales