The independent reports due in the next few months will be an indication of how the profession is seen from outside
The coming months will see something of a test of how the Society, and the profession, fares when given a report card by an independent, informed outsider who has taken a close look at aspects of its work.
Not that it/they are the sole subject of scrutiny in either review that is due to report between now and the summer, the review of legal aid under Martyn Evans and the review of the regulation of legal services under Esther Roberton. But in each case there has been a strongly supported position (or set of proposals) put forward, and the stakes are high. Much time and effort has been put into the submissions from the profession, and no doubt everything has been said that could have been said, but other voices have been competing to be heard and the conclusions reached will to an extent indicate how others see us.
With the legal aid review, which could be released almost any time now, there is the additional recent background of the withdrawal of many solicitors from the police station duty scheme as the 2016 Criminal Justice Act threatens to impose even further demands on the stretched criminal legal aid sector. But although a potential cause of much disruption – the reasons why that has not come to pass in the first weeks of the Act remain unclear – their action should at its core be seen as a symptom of the increasing lack of funding of the sector over recent years, and a sign that the profession feels it is finally being pushed too far for the limited rewards on offer.
As for the Roberton review, the renewed tussle with the SLCC over its next budget and set of levies is one element to add some spice. What sort of oversight should be in place for the complaints body? And what should be done about the procedures it has to follow (as to which the SLCC itself is equally keen to see reform)? Possibilities regarding the latter include more sharing of initial complaint handling on the one hand, to the Society losing its role in relation to professional misconduct on the other. But the Society also has a much longer list of legislative change it believes to be necessary for modern conditions. The direction Ms Roberton chooses will have implications for all solicitors, not to mention the wider public. And a window for submissions from all with an interest has now been opened, until 30 March.