In Europe, hardly a day goes by without news of further regulation of the financial services sector in the wake of the economic crisis. It is a commonplace that the Thatcher-Reagan period of ‘big bangs’, deregulation and liberalisation is over. That leads me to think about our place as solicitors in the historic cycle, in terms of our own regulation. A few weeks back, I wrote about the impact of the economic crisis on lawyers and law firms. Now I want to reflect on its impact on our regulation, particularly in the week in which a substantial rise was announced in the practising certificate fee in order to pay for the new system of regulation. My reading of our recent history is as follows. Although Mrs Thatcher tried to liberalise and deregulate the solicitors’ profession with the break-up of the conveyancing monopoly in the late 1980s, it did not lead to a change in the way we were regulated. It was left to her political heir, Tony Blair, to bring about our ‘big bang’ through the Legal Services Act 2007, the consequences of which are slowly unfolding before our eyes as the Legal Services Board gets down to business. Why did it take so long for our own big bang to come? I put it down to the rule of law being much more important as a propaganda tool to Western societies until the fall of the Soviet Empire. Once the Wall had gone, and market forces were the only game in town, it was just a matter of time before market forces were applied to the justice sector too. But we are living in a different era now. For the first time since the fall of the Wall, market forces are being checked and questioned, just a couple of years after the Legal Services Act 2007 was passed. Of course, it is notoriously difficult to predict the direction of history at the time it is being lived. The Communists thought that they were historically inevitable. But that does not mean we should not try to see where we are, and where we might be going, even if we turn out to be wrong. My instinct, shared by many, is that there is no longer a taste for letting market forces be the judge. The anxious days of 2008, with collapsing banks and giant government handouts, will inevitably (am I using that word?) lead to a general agreement on more regulation and more caution. Yet you only have to read the recent consultation paper by the Legal Services Board on alternative business structures to see that, for the board, the days of the market being the decision-maker are not over. There is a section in the consultation paper on ‘The benefits of opening the market’, but there is no section on ‘The disadvantages of opening the market’. There is a section on ‘Managing the risks of opening the market’, but the title tells you everything: it can all be managed – don’t worry. As a result, our own history as solicitors, following maybe the last major push of the full-on market forces era, is leading in the opposite direction to where many feel that the rest of society is heading. I don’t blame the Legal Services Board; its job is to introduce alternative business structures. The government has set the agenda in concrete, before recent economic and historical events made concrete seem like not the best idea. An Act of Parliament has taken the unfolding of our own history out of our hands. But that does not mean that nothing can be done. Obviously, we can all give our views to the Legal Services Board before its consultation ends on 14 August. And the Legal Services Board itself, to the extent that it is allowed by the Act, can allow enough elastic in the direction it takes to be sure that the regulation of solicitors does not come to resemble a beached whale, when the tide of ‘The market as decision-maker’ has gone out. Jonathan Goldsmith is the Secretary General of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), which represents over 700,000 European lawyers through its member bars and law societies.