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Legal Services Regulation

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 5 November 2013

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Ceisteanna (68)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


68. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the research he has gathered in relation to multi-disciplinary practices as he proposes with the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011. [45971/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy may be aware, numerous jurisdictions have introduced new and more customer-focussed legal business models. These "alternative business structures" (ABS) can involve the traditional legal services provided by barristers and/or solicitors or combine them, in what are known as "multi-disciplinary practices", with those of accountants, insurance brokers, conveyancers or other professionals to provide seamless solutions for clients on a more cost-effective basis. The globalisation of legal and other services, along with the ongoing and exponential advances being made in business technologies and outsourcing, are challenging the traditional ways in which legal professionals conduct their business. To ignore these changes would leave legal practitioners in this jurisdiction at a growing competitive disadvantage. Consequently, in looking to the future, the Legal Services Regulation Bill, in Part 7, provides for the introduction of legal partnerships and of multi-disciplinary practices.

Regrettably, the legal profession have been reluctant movers as far as ABS are concerned. As far back as 1994, the same year in which multi-disciplinary practices were permitted in New South Wales Australia, the Solicitors (Amendment) Act was enacted in our jurisdiction. Taking account of the Fair Trade Commission’s 1990 Report of Study into Restrictive Practices in the Legal Profession the Act, alas unsuccessfully, provided for incorporated practices and the sharing of fees arising from a partnership or an agency arrangement by solicitors with non-lawyers.

Now, almost twenty years later, ABS and multi-disciplinary practices have been, or continue to be, rolled out in England and Wales, Scotland, Australia, Germany, Netherlands and parts of Canada, including British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario and there is a wealth of information and analysis now available on them. The Legal Services Act 2007 provided for the introduction of ABS, including multi-disciplinary practices, in England and Wales - over 200 licences for ABS have been issued to date. The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 also allows for ABS that include multi-disciplinary practices. In Canada, the legislation relates more narrowly to multi-disciplinary practices. Along with officials of my Department, I have been actively reviewing and considering in detail how the introduction of ABS is taking place in all of these jurisdictions along with the relevant literature and those submissions received. I am also considering the various issues of probity and governance that would relate to such new legal business models.

I was previously briefed on the roll-out of ABS by Mr. Steve Mark, the then Legal Services Commissioner for New South Wales, while on official business in Australia in March of 2012. Both he and Mr Chris Kenny, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board for England & Wales, addressed a conference on the modernisation of legal services hosted by my Department in July 2012. Last Friday, I met, along with officials of my Department, representatives of the UK Legal Services Board and of the Solicitors Regulation Authority in London, where we were updated on the latest developments in relation to multi-disciplinary practises. I also visited one of the new legal business models up and running in the city. The Deputy can, therefore, be assured of the ongoing and substantial consideration I am giving, along with Department officials, to the introduction and proper regulation of multi-disciplinary legal practices. In light of this consideration, I will be bringing forward appropriate amendments to Part 7 of the Legal Services Regulation Bill for its forthcoming resumption of Committee Stage.