Alex Roy, Head of Development and Research, Legal Services Board

The UK government senses in law and legal services a real opportunity for export.

The Legal Services Board is an independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales. It oversees, among other regulatory bodies, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (which regulates solicitors) and the Bar Standards Board (which regulates barristers). This interview was conducted in March, 2014, when Roy was serving as Head of Development and Research of the LSB.

Many of the innovations occurring in the UK market are happening in the US, with or without the regulatory changes. This reveals something very interesting about the global legal services market: that it is all being driven by consumer demand. Whether regulations allow for ABSs or not, changes will occur. The advantage of the UK regulations is that it allows for more capital and more innovations.

Law has been globalized for large corporations for quite some time now, of course. What you see now is that law is also becoming globalized for small businesses and even individuals. And what is driving this change is IT. Firms now have the ability to harness IT in order to deliver legal services over the Internet to anyone in the world.

Massive evidence shows that there is a huge unmet need for legal services. The unmet need is by no means limited to individuals and small businesses, but for them the situation is particularly acute. The UK reforms are about putting the customer at the heart of the relationship, and about prioritizing the needs of the customer. The reforms allow for people who have different skills and expertise to be brought together, people that typically aren’t brought together, in order to meet customer needs, and in order to improve access to justice and to legal services.

But the adoption of the ABS structure is not always necessary. While much of the discussion of the UK regulations is often focused on non-lawyer ownership, MDPs, and the creation of the ABS structure, the changes in our regulations are much more profound. Essentially, we’ve taken away the restrictions on competition in the legal services market, and, in doing so, we’ve fostered a general climate of innovation and creativity in the provision of legal services. As a result, whether they do it as an ABS or not, all lawyers need to re-engineer what they do and how they do it, in order to compete in a very different environment.

The UK benefits economically from being more open. Competition drives competitiveness drives performance of the firms. While the law itself across jurisdictions may be different, the model you use to deliver and the types of issues you have are the same. So, you can take a platform and a way of dealing with law, and apply it by modifying the underlying legal framework behind it. And while this might work more easily where you have similar jurisdictions, like common law, we increasingly see firms coming from Europe — from civil law jurisdictions — and competing in the UK.

The UK already has a strong financial center and a large number of large international law firms. Feeding on that already competitive environment, the UK government sees the possibility to drive higher legal exports from the country, and to develop law and legal services as an area for competitive advantage.

The UK government sees that it can promote law firms that can operate both here and overseas, delivering high-quality legal services using the brand of England, where lawyers are seen as well-trained and highly skilled, and operating in flexible firms that can deliver advice to businesses and people on a global basis.

If you consider the UK regulatory environment as a whole — our greater openness, the ability firms have to access capital as well as a greater variety of people and skill sets, and especially IT expertise, you see that in the UK, firms are able to experiment with and deliver the types of legal services that customers are looking for. This is the essence of the big competitive advantage that the regulatory environment of the UK offers.

This story is supplemental material for Modernizing Legal Services in Common Law Countries: Will the US Be Left Behind? To learn more about the book, please click here.

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