The Legal Services Board (LSB) this month published a discussion paper outlining how it would evaluate the impact of key changes in the legal services market, such as the new business model (issuing of ABS licences), on access to justice.
The organisation proposed a set of eight measures to monitor access to justice for individual consumers, making wide use of previous research and approaching areas where it has scarce information, such as the impact of technology on the legal market.
The proposed indicators cover demand for, use and perception of legal services as well as the paths to justice, cost of legal services and scope of delivery. The paper draws extensively on findings from the LSB Benchmarking Legal Services Survey released earlier this year in order to measure outcomes in each of its regulatory objectives.
The paper said that the introduction of ABSs brought more competition to the legal services market, resulting in wider choice for consumers and potentially lower prices. The new business model is more cost-effective through increased use of innovation and encourages growth in the marketplace, though risks related to ABSs remain, such as a potential clash of interest between lawyers and investors and possible reduction in the number of small-size firms.
The debate on access to justice, which is a wider term than access to courts or the provision of services by licensed persons, has many dimensions and their contextual reading is essential in grasping the changes in the market. For instance, a rise in people making probate applications without using lawyers gives no clear indication of changes in the access to justice as it can be driven by a simplification of probate procedures as much as by reduction in the number of probate providers. However, if over time we see a drop in the number of providers, combined with higher prices charged and a rise in people handling a legal need themselves because they view the price as too high, then we can conclude that the changes have failed to improve access to justice, the LSB said.