In Industry Insights

The recent LSB conference on reshaping the legal profession covered important themes such as promoting ethics and trust, understanding consumer needs, and preparing for future challenges, notably those posed by AI advancements. 

Highlights included a focus on the Post Office Horizon scandal as a call to action for human-centred legal services. Key discussions also revolved around encouraging ethical responsibility within the legal profession, enhancing regulatory visibility to foster public trust, integrating regulatory and cultural changes, ensuring AI benefits consumers with accountability, and the value of a collaborative approach across the sector.

“Just because it is common practice doesn’t make it okay”

The standout session involved an emotional interview of Lee Castleton, a victim of the Horizon IT scandal. He urged lawyers to call out behaviours that cross ethical lines, and to see the human behind the file. 

A return to individual ethics was indeed the theme of the day, with very little time spent considering rules-based compliance. There was a general consensus that lawyers should see their role in the context of the wider public interest, rather than simply “hired guns” seeking to win at all costs. 

When it comes to poor ethical behaviour, it was noted that “we are all regulators” – the implication being that there is a limit to the reach of regulatory bodies. A profession requires personal accountability and a willingness to police the conduct of others. It is not just a job for the compliance department. To an extent, this is already enshrined in the Codes of Conduct. Do we have a problem with snitching on our peers?

Linked to the overarching theme of ethics, NDAs and SLAPPs were identified as still presenting a major ethical problem for the profession. The film and TV industry was singled out as being rife with lawyer-enabled pre-emptive gagging, particularly of actors. There are law firms that are well known for their aggressive approach to threats to journalists and public interest organisations.  

Senior representatives from most of the front line regulators, including the SRA and CLC, were in attendance and more than one panellist made a direct plea for them to take a more supportive approach when professionals raise concerns. Rather than the default position being “do we need to investigate the whistleblower?”. 

The LSB was also urged to take a more proactive approach in presenting a “State of the Legal Services Union” to Parliament, highlighting challenges facing the rule of law and the work being done to protect a fundamental aspect of Britain’s democracy.

There were also thought-provoking sessions on the future of legal practice and AI. 

The conference veered a few times into lawyer bashing, which at times felt overblown without recognising all the good work that the professions do for the public. Perhaps unexpectedly, there was a lot of regulatory speak, but once deciphered there was a lot of valid and timely content on offer.

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