The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) says, in its annual report, that it hopes the law overhauling the legal professions will provide the basis for further reform of the sector in coming years.
The Legal Services Regulation Act, 2015 – a watered-down version of the original bill published in 2011 – became law earlier this year. While oversight will pass to an independent body, the Legal Services Regulation Authority, the individual professionals – barristers and solicitors – will retain some powers themselves.
The Bar Council kept the right to refuse membership of the Law Library to barristers in employment, partnerships or new business models. The Law Society retained financial and accounting oversight of solicitors.
As a result, the CCPC says that not all its concerns were "fully addressed" in the enacted legislation. Its report points out that as far back as 2006, its predecessor, the Competition Authority, produced a report showing that many unnecessary restrictions hampered commercial freedom in the legal professions.
That report, and earlier recommendations made in 2005 by the Legal Costs Working Group, helped form the basis of the reforming legislation. However, the CCPC points out that the bill was heavily amended late last year.
Those changes followed lobbying by both professions. What is worrying is that the concerns of these two organisations appear to have trumped the views of a State agency, part of whose role involves protecting consumers from individual interest groups, and which had plenty of evidence to support its position.
On that basis, the optimism that the CCPC expresses when it says that the new legislation will form the basis of further reform of the legal profession, and that the regulator will be a key driver of this in coming years, is surely misplaced.