January 1 issued in a new decade and a new regulator for the legal profession. The Legal Services Board (LSB) came out of its shadowy limbo as a fully-fledged regulator.
The LSB was envisaged by the Clementi Review as a super-regulator that would control the front line regulators of the various occupations that make up the the English legal profession. The legal profession here has always been multi-faceted. Even in the 15th century there were around a dozen groups in the legal industry.
One of the key aspects of the reforms is the separation of the representative bodies from their supervisory/regulatory duties. This combined portfolio of tasks prompted scepticism from a jaded public and government. The regulatory bargain or professional bargain with the community (as espoused by the functionalists, say, Parsons) had collapsed, if it ever existed. Another less elegant way of putting it is: Get real!
Regulation is only one of the LSB's responsibilities. The other is promoting competition which is being handled by loosening the organizational ties around the legal profession. No longer will law firms necessarily be owned by lawyers alone. They can become corporate entities like any other occupational group. Although this has caused gasps of horror among many traditionalists, especially in the US where they are panicking, "modernists" hope this will be the new dawn for the legal profession.
New dawns often bring unwelcome things (remember the Day of the Triffids) as well as good.
Without help I don't think most lawyers will know what to do in this new era. From 2011 "Alternative Business Structures" will be permitted; that will be the opening foray for the corporatization of the legal profession.
Some lawyers have begun to think this through. Some even may see it in terms of "Law's Big Bang" redolent of the financial services Big Bang in the 1980s under Thatcher. The problem with the legal profession is that on the whole it isn't reflective. It has never needed to be since it has been protected for so long.
It may think that by importing a few consultants from business schools or other consulting firms, it will have the difficulties licked. Unfortunately, no. Unless it comes to terms with its own future and plots its own course there, it will lose its way and become captive to others' interests.
This is much a philosophical problem as an organizational one. And this is where the legal profession pulls up short. Time is running out.