The regulatory and workforce needs of the solicitors’ profession are expected to lie at the heart of the Society’s evolving strategy, Council members heard.
Current and future strategy was being driven by “seismic changes” in the legal landscape and the Society must respond in the interests of the profession and the public, they were told.
Chief Executive Lorna Jack explained that a Council away day in February had already considered a number of strategic issues. However, discussions about changes to the legal market and profession had produced a “huge diversity of views” and required further exploration, she said.
Vice President Alistair Morris added: “We are in a time of change, seismic change, being driven by the consumer.”
He said the Society must consider its role during that period of change, for instance, in relation to the current Towards 2020 strategy.
Deputy Chief Executive Henry Robson gave a “snapshot” of some trends in legal services, which included the changing nature of the solicitors’ profession and other legal services providers, the growth of multi-national practices, mergers and takeovers, globalisation, specialisation and new business models.
Liz Campbell, Director of Education and Training, said the time may be right to look again at who delivers legal services and what are the qualifications, skills and workforce needs of the future.
For instance, with increasing numbers of non-solicitors delivering legal services, one option may be to build on the successful Registered Paralegal Scheme, which provides a defined professional status and a career path for paralegals.
Philip Yelland, Director of Regulation, explained that the Regulatory Committee had identified two projects to explore.
He said more work would be carried out on the possibility of developing a regulatory regime focused on principles and outcomes rather than a rule-based system. This would require the Society to consider how charges are made for regulation as a consequence.
More detailed papers on the issues outlined would be put to future Council meetings, members were told.
President Bruce Beveridge said: “Excellence has to be at the absolute core of anything we do.”
The recommended pay rate for trainees is to rise by 3% from June this year, the Council agreed.
The increase will result in a recommended rate of £16,700 for first-year trainees and £20,000 for those in their second year.
Education and Training (Policy) Committee Convener Christine McLintock said the recommended rate had been frozen since 2012, partly in recognition of the difficult economic climate. However, the economic outlook was now more positive, she added.
She argued that a recommended rate would help to retain the best talent in the solicitors’ profession by recognising their worth.
Concerns were raised that setting a recommended rate could discourage firms from taking on trainees. The financial challenges facing legal aid practitioners, in particular, was highlighted.
It was agreed that the increase should take effect from 1 June, with the issue of setting a recommended rate considered in more detail in the months ahead.
Consumer protections in conveyancing
The Society is to carry out a review of the consumer protections in place for those involved in conveyancing transactions.
Council members heard that the robustness of those consumer protections had been questioned following high-profile cases where consumers were left without valid title after buying property, an issue due to be raised in a motion to the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Jenny Marra.
The Council heard that any potential pay-outs on claims from the Master Policy, which provides insurance against losses caused by a solicitor’s negligence, were a matter for the insurers.
However, the principles that had been highlighted by the cases, which involved Scottish solicitors, could be explored further, it was added.
Other consumer protections include the Guarantee Fund, which reimburses clients who have suffered monetary loss because of the dishonesty of a solicitor or their staff.
Tribute was paid to four retiring Council members, who were described as making a valuable contribution to the work of the Society.
Former president Ruthven Gemmell, the second longest-serving Council member – after joining as a co-opted member in 1993 – and Edinburgh constituency representative, gave “outstanding service” as an office bearer and through the Society’s Council and committees.
The current President, Bruce Beveridge, added that the other retiring members – Catriona Munro, representing Edinburgh; Frances McKay, from the constituency of Stonehaven, Peterhead and Banff; and, Stewart Sheddon, Council member for Ayr – all deserved recognition for their contributions at Council meetings and as constituency representatives.