Improving access to law - The study of SEO Economic Research
In attempting to safeguard legal security for all those seeking justice most European governments have given certain exclusive privileges to lawyers. Although much of the ensuing regulation and self-regulation aims to protect professional quality, it also undeniably restricts competition. Therefore, RIAD commissioned SEO Economic Research, an independent research institute connected with the University of Amsterdam, to conduct a comparative study on the economic consequence of the legal systems currently in operation in Europe.
The report on the pan-Euroean study “Regulation of the legal profession and access to law” was published in June 2008. The findings were clear: stringent levels of regulation are not necessary to achieve sufficient access to law. In analysing the diverse approaches taken to regulating the legal profession in Europe, the study revealed clear societal costs whereas the benefits of strict regulation were less clear. Moreover, the report addresses a range of pertinent questions, including is it really necessary to have a monopoly for lawyers; why isn’t it possible to become a lawyer in the employment of a non-lawyer; and is fee regulation really necessary?
The strong and robust findings have allowed RIAD to initiate policy discussions with regulators, legal experts, economists and other stakeholders. Too often regulators simply assume that the social benefits of regulation are higher than the social costs. This complacency needs to be challenged and RIAD is calling for an open discussion on the costs and benefits of the regulation of the legal profession. There are diverse approaches taken to guaranteeing access to justice within the EU. Some markets are heavily regulated while others have far more liberal regimes. However, there is no significant difference in citizens’ access to law.
Procedural law is clearly a very complicated matter and the need for regulation to ensure adequately qualified legal representatives is not in doubt. The SEO report concludes, however, that the need to regulate is less significant than typically assumed by government agencies and the legal profession. For example, the research shows that compulsory representation in court is probably necessary but that the easing of the monopoly on representation currently enjoyed by lawyers, to include jurists from other legal counsels, would greatly benefit the consumer by promoting freedom of choice.
From an economic perspective, there seems much to gain for society by opening up the national legal markets. Knowing that the introduction of competition to legal services will reduce the cost of access to law, the major policy challenge is to identify and remove the restrictions which are unnecessary or disproportionate to achieve public interest goals and RIAD is actively involved in driving this policy debate forward.
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