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Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner: Placing consumers at the centre of legal regulation

Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner: Placing consumers at the centre of legal regulation

By Fiona McLeay

Consumer Law Practice & Procedure 

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Consumer principles will guide you when you are thinking about how to design and deliver legal services to your clients.

As lawyers, it’s easy to lose sight of what it’s like to approach the profession from the outside. For consumers of legal services it can be a daunting experience.

At the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner (VLSB+C)the strategy, ‘A clear direction’, outlines the VLSB+C’s aims to protect consumers and the public by effective regulation of lawyers, and assist the profession to achieve the highest standards of ethics and legal practice. As part of this, the VLSB+C is working to improve the understanding of experiences of consumers, particularly those in the low to middle income range, including small businesses, who use legal services infrequently or go without – a cohort known as the missing middle. The VLSB+C hopes to incorporate this knowledge into its regulatory work to better serve consumers and lawyers. 

Consumer panel

The consumer panel is one way the VLSB+C is trying to gain a better understanding of what this large cohort of the community needs and expects from the legal profession.

Established in March, and the first of its kind in Australia, panel members bring a wealth of knowledge of consumer research, customer and disability advocacy, consumer policy and regulation and change management. You can find out more about the panel members on the VLSB+C website under ‘About us’.

Its purpose is to help improve outcomes for consumers by: 

  • finding out what consumers think, expect and need
  • bringing the consumer voice and experiences to the VLSB+C
  • helping the VLSB+C protect vulnerable consumers
  • improving trust and confidence in, and access to, legal services.

Ultimately, it will provide information and guidance that helps legal services be more responsive to all consumer needs. This will help to shape the work of the VLSB+C. It will also provide insights to lawyers so they can improve and provide new kinds of services that address gaps in the market. 

Consumer principles

One of the panel’s most important pieces of work in its first term is to apply the consumer principles to legal services provision and regulation in Victoria. The consumer principles were first described in a seminal address by former US President John F Kennedy in 1962, and have since formed the basis of much consumer protection policy. The principles evaluate consumer goods and services in terms of access, choice, information, quality, safety, fairness, representation and redress. What might this look like in practice? 

Access might mean offering services where and how consumers need them, at a price that represents good value for money. Technology may be the key to giving greater access and increasing affordability. 

Choice might include giving clear information, and having reliable comparison tools, that enable consumers to choose the level and kind of service that they need. 

Quality might mean proper supervision of junior staff and the timely communication of accurate advice that is pitched at the right level. 

Information might include providing clear and accurate information about the price of the services and advice that will enable the client to make choices in their best interests, particularly where the client is in a position of vulnerability. 

Applying consumer principles will also help lawyers to better understand what consumers need, helping them to prevent the consumer complaints that come up time and time again. Ultimately, the consumer principles will guide you when you are thinking about how to design and deliver legal services to your clients. In turn, the VLSB+C is hoping to expand access for people with legal problems and reduce the number of complaints about poor service.

Improving consumer communications

The VLSB+C also knows it needs to improve the way it communicates with both lawyers and consumers. While the topics can often be complex, the language and information doesn’t have to be.

Feedback from lawyers and consumers who have been involved in a complaint or inquiry have identified other areas where the VLSB+C can improve. Over the next year it will be implementing many of these changes, including:

  • information on the website in text, video, audio and picture formats
  • an online inquiry form for consumers
  • better information about what constitutes a complaint and what the potential outcomes are for a consumer 
  • better information for lawyers and consumers about the complaints process and setting clear expectations about the time it takes to finalise a complaint
  • improving the communications lawyers and consumers receive during an inquiry or complaint.

Most of us became lawyers in order to serve our clients and community, and we all have a vital interest in making law more accessible and user-friendly. A focus on what consumers think, expect and need will help us to do this better, particularly in challenging times. ■


Fiona McLeay is Victorian Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner.


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