Dinner at Lincoln’s Inn

lincolns-innOn Friday 1 November 2013 I was invited by the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn for its annual Law Tutor’s Forum and a rather sumptuous dinner.

An Inn is an association of lawyers mainly barristers organised for mutual support and education of barristers. Lincoln’s Inn is fortunate in being able to occupy about 11 acres of prime central London historical property behind the High Court and next to Lincoln’s Inn Square since about 1422.

The evening opened with a short talk on the current proposals for the reforms in legal education and training followed by a discussion.  The main concern revolved around the question of regulation of the way lawyers provide legal services to the public in the face of the political dominance of market ideology and whether, in the face of the ‘market’, the legal profession should continue to be regulated at the training stage following academic stage of legal education. Currently the Solicitors’ Regularity Authority and the Bar Standards Board between them regulate access to practice in the legal profession by assessing not only competencies but also ethical and professional standards.

Accordingly, once the person is approved by the regulatory body as an ‘authorised person’[1] – that is achieves the title of a ‘solicitor’ or a ‘barrister’, they are then entitled to offer legal services to the public not only in the reserved areas of practice but business and more. The focus in this system is on the competency and ethical training of the individual lawyer in an attempt to avoid regulation by litigation.

However the meeting noted that the political will may be moving to regulation by reference to activity. This may not be only because about 80% of the work done by solicitors falls outside the reserved category and is often done by non-solicitors but also with the express aim of encouraging further marketisation of legal services. Consequently regulation of legal services aimed at ensuring standards of competence and ethical conduct may in future be directed at the outcome of the reserved activity rather than general training of the lawyer, leaving much of the delivery of legal services to be regulated by litigation.

In short, it would seem that public interest is left to be protected by the individual determination and financial means of a particular consumer pursuing a claim in negligence or contract law rather than the professional regulatory body.

Whilst one may perceive some sort of neo-liberal economic  argument for this approach, predicated on increasing the competition for provision of legal services and thereby allowing road hauliers, for instance, to invest in legal firms, or permitting insurance companies with a vested interest to represent individuals, it appears to pay scant regard to principles of disinterested impartiality, public good, independence and the recognition that public interest is not always best protected by privileging financial and economic gain only.

The evening closed with a delicious five course dinner, served in the same hall that long ago used to serve as the Court of Chancery, in elevated but convivial company leaving us all contented, pleased with yourselves and celebrating our exceptional and privileged state of ignorance, for according to Jeremy Bentham we as “Lawyers are the only person in whom ignorance of the law is not punished.

[1] See Legal Services Act 2007 – S1 sets out eight regulatory objectives including aim of promoting and maintaining adherence to ‘professional principles’ of independence and integrity, confidentiality, acting in client’s best interest, and proper standards of work.

Suggested citation: J Ressel ‘Dinner at Lincoln’s Inn’ Law, Cult. & Ideas Blog (11 November 2013) (available at  https://lawcultureblog.wordpress.com/ )

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