I am afraid I am not very impressed with the SRAs interim impact assessment on ABSs. Essentially it restates two concerns about ABSs (that they may impact on small firms and BME lawyers in particular) and access to justice (if ABSs drive smaller ‘local’ firms out of business), points out that networks may inhibit some of these effects and then says they need to do more work. I confess to being a little puzzled as to why this interim assessment has been released. It states nothing that is not already and offers no real risk assessment beyond identifying the need to do ‘more work’ on the problems.
In charitable moments, I sympathise with regulators required to do impact assessments on reforms where it is very difficult to predict the outcome of those reforms. I also tend to get rather depressed when I then read the product of such impact assessments. They usually fall into the habit of indicating what that body hopes the impact of reform will be. My concern with the SRA impact assessment is rather different. Modern regulators who want to take a risk- and outcome-based approach to regulation need to develop stronger methods of analysis and evidence for their positions than this document suggests the SRA currently have done. ABSs threaten or promise (depending on your instincts) profound change in the market for legal services and yet so far the SRA appears to have relied on consultation with its members. As a regulator operating in the public interest it needs to do better than this. At the moment this document, in anticipating the impact of ABS reforms seems rather to shrug it’s shoulders and mumble, “I dunno” when asked what the impact of ABSs will be. It is to be hoped they do better with the full assessment.