Neuberger on a fused future

“A rational approach” to regulation of the legal profession was called for by the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, in a speech to the Bar Councils of Northern Ireland and Ireland on 20 June.

Hoping for regulation that will “become more realistic and less expensive”, he suggested a “single regulatory body for legal services with a number of discrete divisions: litigation, advocacy and advisory”.

This may “provide further impetus towards a de facto fusion of the legal profession” and although he would “regret” fusion, neither was he speaking against it. “A fearless, independent and outspoken group of specialist advocates can exist and thrive perfectly well within a larger, single legal profession,” he said. The Association of Trial Lawyers of America “is every bit as effective as the Bar Council in England”.

Lawyers “must ensure that their services are provided as cheaply as is consistent with their other duties – at least when they are acting for ordinary people whether or not they are relying on government funding”.

Lawyers and judges must always stand up for “an irreducible acceptable minimum of competence” and he had further advice for both. “If I ever had a mission statement for the Supreme Court, which I certainly will not, it would be to ensure that the law was as simple, as clear and as principled as possible.” Appellate advocates have a role here too: shorter written cases and more focused oral submissions.

In contrast, Bar Standards Board Chair Baroness Deech argued the case for specialist regulation in a speech to the International Legal Regulators Conference on 8 July: “A glance at the study of the financial market and its collapse, or at health care, shows only too clearly that the small expert regulator is now seen as doing a better job.”

By the time a super-regulator was set up, which “would immediately [require] three subcommittees – one for advocacy, one for litigation, one for transactions... the expertise and familiarity of the existing regulators would have been lost, with consequent risk to... international reputation,” she added.