Belfast Telegraph

Reform of legal profession unveiled

The first radical reform of three top professions has been unveiled with lawyers to be forced to be more open on costs and improve competitiveness.

Wide-ranging reform of how solicitors and barristers do business will see outside regulation for the first time and an independent complaints watchdog.

Lawyers - described by bailout bosses as a "sheltered profession" - will have to be more open and detailed on how they charge for their advice and services.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said modernising the rules behind the legal professions will better balance the interests of the public, consumers and lawyers.

"Together, these provisions will promote competition and transparency in the organisation and provision of legal services in the State and in relation to legal costs," he said.

The reforms are a key plank of commitments to improve competitiveness and transparency in the top rungs of the professional world in the wake of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout last year.

It warned of the need for reform in three "sheltered sectors" with the medical and pharmacy professions also facing similar overhaul.

According to Government, the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 is designed to balance the interests of clients and lawyers better than ever before and to the benefit of both.

An independent adjudicator will publish rulings on disputed costs and a separate watchdog, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, will handle complaints.

Mr Shatter, a partner in Dublin legal practice Gallagher-Shatter until he was appointed minister and a family law expert, added: "It is a good day for the legal profession as well because restrictive practices which inhibit the delivery of legal services are being removed through new business models."

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