Government announces new reforms on how solicitors and barristers do business
Published 04/10/2011 | 17:21
The first radical reform of three top professions has been unveiled with lawyers to be forced to be more open on costs and improve competitiveness.
Wide-ranging reform of how solicitors and barristers do business will see outside regulation for the first time and an independent complaints watchdog.
Lawyers - described by bailout bosses as a "sheltered profession" - will have to be more open and detailed on how they charge for their advice and services.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said modernising the rules behind the legal professions will better balance the interests of the public, consumers and lawyers.
"Together, these provisions will promote competition and transparency in the organisation and provision of legal services in the State and in relation to legal costs," he said.
"They will also create a single and independent point of call for those who wish to make complaints about legal services."
The reforms are a key plank of commitments to improve competitiveness and transparency in the top rungs of the professional world in the wake of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout last year.
It warned of the need for reform in three "sheltered sectors" with the medical and pharmacy professions also facing similar overhaul.
According to Government, the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 is designed to balance the interests of clients and lawyers better than ever before and to the benefit of both.
It aims to provide clarity on what service a lawyer is providing, what fees apply and why, and to whom clients should turn if there is a dispute about legal costs.
An independent adjudicator will publish rulings on disputed costs and a separate watchdog, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, will handle complaints.
There will also be a new procedure under the Legal Professions Disciplinary Tribunal to deal with unscrupulous lawyers.
Lawyers will be obliged to provide adequate and up-to-date information on how cases are developing and costs are mounting.
Mr Shatter, a partner in Dublin legal practice Gallagher-Shatter and a family law expert, said the bill is the first step in further reform.
He said it lays the groundwork to open the legal system up to multi-disciplinary practices including easier switching between the professions and giving clients direct access to barristers.
"It is a good day for the legal profession as well because restrictive practices which inhibit the delivery of legal services are being removed through new business models," the minister said.
The Government insisted it has an unerring commitment to the independent regulation of the legal profession.
In a bulletin to members at the end of September, the Law Society president John Costello insisted "solicitors are by no means opposed to all change".