Sommerlad, Hilary and Sanderson, Pete (2004) Cultures of professional knowledge and competence : issues in the training and regulation of legal advice providers in the U.K. In: Association Internationale de Sociologie, 4ème Conférence Intermédiaire: Savoirs, Travail et Organisation, 22-24 September 2004, Université de Versailles. (Unpublished)
Abstract

The last two decades have seen a rapid transformation of the professional structures relating to the provision of publicly funded (legal aid) legal advice and support in the U.K. Market control theorists have seen this process as a symptom of the withdrawal of State shelter for exclusive practice rights , while other commentators have seen the process as a ‘renegotiation of professionalism’ whereby lawyers have been drawn into a new relationship with stakeholders. The wider context for these developments has been the growth of New Public Management, and the contractualisation of relationships between public service providers and ‘consumers’.

This process took a new direction with the development of the Community Legal Service, and the extension of support by the Legal Services Commission to advice agencies in the Not For Profit (NFP) sector, as part of a programme of legal aid reform. This reform, it has been argued, has been characterised by the residualisation civil legal, the marginalisation of legal aid lawyers working in the sector, and a drive to substitute Alternative Dispute Resolution, and advice, for civil litigation. This paper traces the history of these developments before exploring in detail the implications of the increasingly diverse character of advice providers in the sector, from professional solicitors in private practice, through paid advice workers in advice agencies to volunteer workers in Citizen’s Advice Agencies. Aspects of the different cultures within which the professional knowledge and competence of workers are deployed are discussed., such as the client-centred ethos of the NFP sector, for example time-work cultures. The development of a Quality Assurance system for all publicly funded legal advice workers is discussed in terms both of its effect of these cultures, and as an example of significant change in the relationship between the State and NGOs. The issue of knowledge capture and standardisation appears increasingly.

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