the Irish for rights

The IMF deal can change the Irish legal system for the better

Sunday Business Post, front page, 12 Dec 10, via their websiteIn yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, I argued that the IMF deal can change the Irish legal system for the better, reflecting arguments I have already made here and here.

IMF deal can change the Irish legal system for the better

The IMF deal has provoked a great deal of discussion, from its impact on our political and economic sovereignty, through the details of tax increases, state spending cuts and the implementation timetable, to the question of whether it needs to be ratified by Dáil resolution or even referendum. But there is a lot more to it than that.

IMF packages typically require structural reform to open the labour market and encourage competition in goods and services. The memorandum of understanding between the IMF and our government is no different. It requires the government to introduce legislation to remove restrictions on trade and competition in professions such as law, medicine and pharmacy. …

The IMF memorandum made it clear that all of the necessary legislation must be enacted by the end of the third quarter of 2011. This is probably not an impossible target, as these recommendations were not new in 2005 and 2006: many of them had been made in a report in 1990. Moreover, many other jurisdictions have already been down the same road. .. There are, therefore, many precedents to aid the Department of Justice in drafting the necessary legislation. It is unfortunate that successive governments have not implemented these reports.

Read the full piece here. Picking up on this, Rossa McMahon has rather dryly observed that the Government could help bring down legal costs overnight, but won’t. He concluded that if the IMF reforms “are implemented in the relatively short timeframe of the programme, they would represent something of a Big Bang for the professions”.

6 Responses to “The IMF deal can change the Irish legal system for the better”

  1. Steve says:

    So, how long before we law teachers have to worry about this?

  2. Eoin says:

    Good question. Assume that it’s going to happen, and that the heads of the legislation are published before the end of the third quarter next year. It will be some time before it is fully in force; and some time after that before the Legal Services Commission is up and running (it’s taken 4 years to go from the initial legislation for the Legal Services Ombudsman to the recent advertisements for the post). And since the LSC will have lots to do, it will be some time after that before it settles the validation criteria for professional legal education. Unless someone pushes this (and the silence of the Competition Authority on the issue is deafening), it could be at least three years before we law teachers have to worry about it (and we may very well then decide not to get involved in the market for professional legal education, in which case we won’t have to worry about it at all).

  3. Before I comment on the substance of the issue, I’ll state that I don’t favour any limit on the number of lawyers who can qualify, whether direct or indirect.

    However, in light of the massive reduction in numbers applying to train as solicitors since 2007 (and the anecdotal evidence that this puts pressure on the Law Society’s school in Cork), would entering the market for training lawyers be an attractive commercial proposition for other institutions?

    Generally, graduates will only apply to train as solicitors if they have secured a training contract. Those are in short supply (anecdotal evidence, again, suggests we have returned to the days of apprenticeships for sale) so an increase in the number of training colleges won’t necessarily increase the number of solicitors.

    Perhaps the system could be aligned with that of the UK where, I understand, one can complete the LPC without having a training contract. That would allow people to undertake the PPC without a contract, but they will face the same difficulty on completion.

    There are, at present, at least a good few hundred unemployed solicitors but this has not necessarily had an impact on legal costs (though the recession might have). Would a few hundred extra junior lawyers lead to increased competition?

    I am in favour of the changes being made because I think schools should compete for students and the Law Society should not have a monopoly, but I wonder will the changes have an appreciable impact.

  4. Eoin,

    I only saw this article today when looking for something different, but as a practising solicitor I have to strongly disagree with a few points which appear to be accepted unquestionably.

    While there is a huge oversupply of practitioners at the moment liberalising the training of lawyers seems inherently sensible. My only comment would be that the academic/practical distinction should be maintained at least in the first few years.

    1) The “liberalisation” of conveyancing services has taken place long ago. Day in day out (even now) I get phone calls from potential clients wanting to know the fees for buying or selling. They rightfully are pricing around to find the cheapest for their transaction and what they end up with is an agreed price from one solicitor or another which is somewhere between loss making and break even when the massive fixed cost of professional indemnity is taken into account. Conveyancing is now a commodity, albeit one with risk attached to it for the service provider, if the transaction costs are to be lowered further then the issue of professional negligence cannot be ignored.

    2) Giving direct access barristers and fusing the professions per se is probably not a bad idea, although it may well act to concentrate the power of the best solicitors and best barristers in a small few large firms with an obvious knock on effect regarding access to law.

    3) There are no restrictions on moving solicitors other than paying the bill for work done.

  5. The evidence suggests there is not enough work to go around
    for those practitioners already in the market, let alone educating
    droves more. It is not clear what is make or break at present, but
    anecdotal accounts suggest it is less to do with ability and more
    to do with contacts or even availability. Therefore there may be a
    glut of junior lawyers amongst whom it is difficult to sort the
    wheat from the chaff. An advantage I see from a chambers system is
    the introduction of a quality test, in the sense that a toll gate
    is introduced in early practice, and those not making it through
    would perhaps not spend years trying to eke a living in a perhaps
    misguided sense. i.e. At present there is noone to tap you on the
    shoulder if you are just not cut out for it. At least chambers
    would provide that health / sanity check perhaps.

  6. […] While Portugal and Iceland garner headlines for their international financial woes, Ireland is getting on with implementing the terms of last November’s EU IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland. For readers of this blog, one very important element of that programme requires the removal of restrictions to competition in sheltered sectors, such as the legal and medical professions. In particular, the Programme recommends the implementation of the 2005 Report (pdf) of the Legal Costs Working Group and of the Competition Authority’s 2006 Reports on regulated professions, including their Report on the Legal Professions. Unsurprisingly, the Bar Council professed itself unhappy with the IMF proposals; but, in my view, the implementation of these recommendations can change the Irish legal system for the better. […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

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In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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