Law Society of Scotland proposes new legislation to protect consumers and grow legal services

New legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive, the Law Society of Scotland has said.

Publishing a detailed prospectus which it has presented to the Scottish government on the need for change, the professional body for Scottish solicitors said the current legislative framework was increasingly out of date and unfit for purpose.

The society now plans to engage with political parties, consumer groups and others in the legal sector to build a consensus in favour of change with an aim of getting a new bill introduced early in the new term of the Scottish Parliament.

President of the Law Society, Christine McLintock said: “The legal services market is a great Scottish success story. We contribute over £1 billion to the economy each year; account for over 20,000 highly skilled jobs and support many of the other sectors on which Scotland’s economy depends.

“We have phenomenal legal talent, thanks to our world class universities and a rigorous programme of training and development to deliver high standards.

“Yet the legal services market is going through a dramatic period of change. New expectations from clients, new business models, the growth of cross border legal firms and increased technology are all serving to reshape the market.”

She added: “Most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is over 35 years old. It is increasingly outdated for modern legal practice. Whilst some reforms were brought in 2007 and 2010, the whole framework can be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory.

“There are important elements and principles which should be preserved. The independence of the legal profession. A single professional body for solicitors. Independent complaints handling and discipline bodies.These are important and should be protected. However, there is a case for new, flexible and enabling legislation which helps the legal services market in Scotland to thrive, which continues to ensure standards remain high and which better protects consumers when things do go wrong.”

In January, the society published a detailed set of priorities for the Holyrood elections and the next term of the Scottish Parliament. This included a call for Scotland’s political parties to commit to a modern, fit-for-purpose framework for legal services in Scotland.

The new prospectus, which the Law Society has submitted to Scottish ministers, sets out the need for change in greater detail and includes proposals for:

  • better regulation of legal firms (“entity regulation”) in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to protect consumers,
  • new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing,
  • opening the Law Society’s membership in order to improve standards amongst other legal professionals,
  • the ability for the Society to regulate legal work beyond the domestic Scottish jurisdiction in order to provide simpler regulation for cross-border firms,
  • more flexible business models which allow legal firms to adapt to market changes.
  • Ms McLintock said: “We have had a number of very useful discussions with the Scottish government and we are grateful to ministers and officials for being so open to listening to our ideas. We have also worked hard to engage other bodies in the legal sector as well as consumer groups to ensure we work in partnership to deliver real change.

    “We obviously need to see the outcome of the Holyrood elections in May and the shape of the new Scottish government. Whatever the outcome, we will be pushing hard for reform to be an early priority in the new parliament.”

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