In its response to the LSB’s discussion paper, the BSB emphasised its commitment to maintaining the availability of a broad choice of expert advocates and specialist advisory services to the public. However, in considering the LSB proposals for a new regulatory regime, the BSB, in its response, set out a number of serious concerns.

The BSB recognises that the development of ABSs is a core objective of the Act, but regards a properly functioning regulatory regime as equally important. Many of the BSB’s concerns with the LSB proposals relate to a lack of quantified evidence to demonstrate that any changes in the business structures, through which barristers provide advocacy and advisory services, will not undermine regulatory objectives. For example, the BSB is not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that all forms of ABSs are necessarily compatible with the regulatory objectives of the Act, or that they will necessarily bring benefits for consumers.

The BSB believes that any new regime for ABSs cannot be effective in its design until there is more evidence about what sort of market is likely to be created, and its impact on the consumers of legal services. Until such evidence exists, or at least until there is a reasonable assessment of the potential impact on the regulatory objectives of different scenarios for the provision of legal services through Legal Disciplinary Practices (LDPs) or ABSs, it would be wrong for the BSB to make a decision to permit barristers to join them.

To assist our decision making process in relation to new types of business structure, the BSB has commissioned preliminary research, to be carried out by Europe Economics, on LDPs and ABSs which will assess the possible effects on the market and consumers of potentially allowing barristers to practise as managers of LDPs and other new business vehicles.

Commenting, Ruth Deech, BSB Chair, said:

“The BSB is keen to embrace the new dimensions for the provision of legal services set out in the Legal Services Act, yet we also believe that this should be preceded by careful evidence based consideration of the issues.

This is particularly important in order to ensure that we meet the objectives of responsible regulation, the benefits of which include promoting access to justice, consumer choice, competition, and encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession. We must collect evidence, as we are now doing, because getting the regulation of legal services right is a once in a generation decision. The new research will contribute to the evidence needed to assist the BSB in reaching a properly balanced and considered decision and we expect to make this in November, depending on the evidence.”