In the wake of the Legal Services Act 2007 (the Act), the legal profession is facing immense change. Particularly significant reforms include the introduction of alternative business structure (ABS), which take two main forms: multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs) and firms with outside ownership. The Act also introduces the concept of entity regulation: ABSs, as well as the lawyers working within them, must be regulated, and the SRA is extending entity regulation to traditional law firms. The Bar Council is also considering a move to entity regulation. The Act also established the Legal Services Board (LSB), independent from the profession, to oversee ‘approved regulators’ such as the Law Society. However, the Law Society and the Bar Council retain responsibility for drawing up the rules of professional conduct, subject to approval by the LSB. In another significant step, in October 2008 the Law Society commissioned Lord Hunt to review the regulation of solicitors (Hunt Review). A sub-strand of that review was an inquiry into the regulation of corporate law firms (Smedley Review). Both reviews recommended a shift to principles- and outcomes-based regulation for the legal profession, a recommendation that the LSB and the SRA have taken up. To take account of this, and to ensure consistent regulation of ABSs and traditional law firms, the SRA is redrafting its Code of Conduct.
It remains to be seen what impact these reforms will have on the role and values of corporate lawyers, and any discussion is necessarily speculative.