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The United Kingdom government has finally considered changing the existing structures of the legal profession. There are actually two areas that the Legal Services Act of 2007 covers: the funding of legal aid and the regulation of the legal profession. It has been found out that legal professionals have been failing to adequately handle consumer complaints. It seems that the public has been losing its confidence on them. This puts the legal profession in critical situation and endangers the country's justice system. To note, lawyers are duty-bound to preserve the respectable reputation of their profession. Also, it has been observed that restrictive legal practices prevent professional competition among legal practitioners (Mortensen, Bartlett, & Tranter, 2010).
As such, in 2003, the Blair administration commissioned Sir David Clementi to conduct a review of the profession's regulatory structure (Mortensen et al., 2010). Clementi's report envisioned three major reforms which were adopted under the act: (1) the creation of the Legal Services Board (LSB); (2) the establishment of the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC); and (3) the authorization of alternative business structures. This set-up has actually been described as consumer-focused and competition-based. The LSB is meant to supervise or oversee the present professional bodies (Mortensen et al., 2010). It can only exercise its intervention power upon finding that the approved regulators have seriously failed or persistently failed in its responsibilities (Mortensen et al., 2010). The OLC on the other hand acts as the single handler of all complaints due to unsatisfactory legal services (Mortensen et al., 2010). This body accords the Ombudsman the power to issue orders against erring legal practitioners (Mortensen et al., 2010). The third reform allows partnership between legal service providers or lawyers and non-lawyers (Mortensen et al., 2010).
The Commercialization of Law
Lawyering is a profession and not a business. This is to be based upon the seven qualities that an occupation must have to be considered a profession. Abraham Flexner enumerates the following: (1) "possess and draw upon a store of knowledge that was more than ordinarily complex"; (2) secure a theoretical understanding of the field with which it tackles; (3) apply its complex and theoretical body of knowledge to the practical and feasible solution of social and human dilemmas; (4) "strive to add to and improve its stock knowledge"; (5) transmit the knowledge to newcomers formally and deliberately; (6) provide requirements for admission, proper conduct and legitimate practice; and (7) be imbued with altruism (cited in Bowie, 1988, p. 743). Law complies will all the aforementioned requisites. The most important quality is having an altruistic spirit -- the concern for public good. This separates law from the other occupations. It is the core of the profession. In this context, if altruism is absent, then law becomes a business. Business has never been regarded as a profession (Bowie, 1988). Business people are self-centered (Bowie, 1988). They are primarily motivated by self-interest (Bowie, 1988). This description is clearly in contrast with the seventh quality which Flexner suggested. There is a need to emphasize this point since the Legal Services Act works opposite to the cited principle. The third envisioned reform will make the legal profession a business.
Allowing alternative business structures between lawyers and non-lawyers is not the kind of competition that can solve the problem on poor legal services. The change will not lower the number of customer complaints. Stated in another sense, the ends will not justify the means. It is against the basic theory of professionalism (Moorhead, Sherr, & Paterson, 2003). It would be better to implement rules which can enhance the ability of lawyers and enlighten them of the importance of public service. The legal profession must ever remain distinct from the other professions. There should be a line that separates lawyering from the rest. Unlike the other professions, it should not be commercialized. Legal professionals should not even entertain the idea of abandoning professionalism for commercialism and principle for money (Bowie, 1988). According to David Bowie (1988), behaving like a traditional business individual is not desirable for lawyers. Lawyers are public servants. The emolument they receive from clients is just an accidental profit. They are essential in the promotion of justice. If the public will consider lawyering to be a money-making activity, the state's justice system will be in great peril. The ethical considerations will be put to waste. The alternative business structure supports the public misconception about lawyers -- that they are social parasites, greedy and lustful (Bowie, 1988). In this sense, the third major reform is not acceptable and should be stricken from the act itself. Lawyers and non-lawyers should not be allowed to form partnership. Activities reserved for lawyers must be maintained. There are civil activities in which lawyers are the most competent professionals to handle.
An Income-Based Competition
Since every business aims for profit, lawyers' competition as envisioned by the Legal Services Act would be income-based. This consequence would change the lawyers' view of his or her work. He or she would be primarily driven by money and not by his or her commitment to public service. When a lawyer would handle a case or provide a legal service, he or she would be thinking first of the possible amount that he or she can get from the client. This is due to the fact that competition in business is always based on how much profit a company or an individual gets. In this sense, lawyers would compete based on the profit that they can get and not by the kind of service they can provide. Basically, this finding will not be good for the legal profession. It is undesirable to see lawyers working based on profit. This scenario is degrading to the profession itself. People would consider lawyers as destroyers of justice, selfish and motivated by money. The act's implementation would change the people's perception about lawyers into something condemning. Instead of being highly regarded and respected as the guardians and protector of justice, they would be simply considered as mere business-minded individuals. This should not be the case. Legal professionals should avoid any act that would destroy the societal importance of law. To emphasize, law as a profession is skill-based and not income-based. To view the profession as skill-based means that in providing legal services, the lawyer's mind is centered on giving the best kind of service to any type of people.
On the other hand, to consider the profession as income-based means that before offering his or her services to the public, the lawyer's mind is preoccupied with money. To note, money triggers evil motives to set in. In this context, if legal practitioners would treat their profession as a money-making activity, then, legal activities would be understood as motivated by evil desires. This is the reason why lawyers should not intermingle business with their profession. The legal profession should always be seen as good. The promotion of justice as the fundamental function of lawyers should be preserved. This will not be achieved if lawyers are deemed by the people as greedy.
Low Regard to the Legal System
Lawyers are essential in the formulation and implementation of laws. They are considered vital actors in a state's legal system. Without them, there would be no one competent to regulate human affairs in logical and technical order. As asserted by R. G. Lee (1992), legal services are basically technical. Lawyers are important "to the maintenance of the rule of law" (Law Society of New South Wales [LSNSW], 1996). In such case, the public's respect and confidence towards them is likewise significant. It is contended that the Legal Services Act of 2007 does not promote such values. What the law implores is the liberalization and commercialization of the legal profession which is detrimental to the legal system. The effect of viewing law as a business and a money-making endeavor is low regard to the country's legal framework. It is possible that the people would lose confidence on the justice system as lawyers would be viewed as profit-oriented rather than justice-oriented. In this context, lawyers' ethics and independence play a big role. Lawyers should work with independence. They will not be seen as such if they have other agendas besides the promotion of justice. External factors like conflict of interest will be a barrier to lawyers' independence. The alternative business structure encourages conflict of interest. This interest would be about the importance of a particular legal service as compared to the other based on the profit to be generated. In another aspect, competition among lawyers and non-lawyers results to conflicting responsibility. Competition in this sense is not good for both. They will be prone to external influences other than their own selfish desires. The skills of lawyering would be compromised. In effect, the people will view the judiciary as incompetent and ineffective in applying and interpreting the laws. This will lead to a weak legal system. The government then will be paralyzed.
The Liberalization of Law
The Legal Services Act of 2007 will liberalize the legal profession. Liberalization under the law means the eradication of restrictions which prevent competition among legal professionals. Through the act, legal practitioners can now offer any legal services as long as it is allowed by the Legal Services Board. Moreover, under the same act, non-lawyers can form partnership with lawyers. It is a contention that this practice will not bring good result. Legal activities which can only be done by certain type of lawyers should be maintained. If the other lawyers would be allowed to offer a legal service which he or she does is not competent to do so, then poor legal service will just be rendered. The specialization of some legal activities by some lawyers has a purpose. It is a contention that legal professionals must specialize a certain field in law as no lawyer can really master all the fields of law. Nevertheless, this specialized knowledge should be used to protect the ignorant customers from exploitation (Metzger, as cited in Bowie, p. 744). The method of liberalization as suggested by the act will only increase the number of complaints from clients due to poor legal service. In another aspect, as competition among the lawyers will grow, they will also decide to lower their professional fees. This could mean that some legal practitioners will offer inexpensive fees but will only render legal service proportionate to the amount agreed upon. Some legal professionals would opt to do this since competition for clients would be great under the law. This is not a good competitive scenario per se. It will compromise the credibility of the legal profession.
The Ultimate Analysis
Upon the implementation of the Legal Services Act 2007, the legal profession would be commercialized, profit-oriented and liberalized. All these changes will downgrade the profession. The British government should prevent this to happen. This can be done by deleting the provision on alternative business structures. The legal profession should ever remain credible, respected and trusted.