We planned to assure our members’ clients and employers by setting and upholding standards that ensure excellent legal and customer service.
We will enhance our role as an anti-money laundering supervisor by implementing the recommendations of the Office of Professional Body Anti Money Laundering Supervisors (OPBAS).
|We implemented the recommendations of OPBAS as agreed and reported to them, which included the training of our internal teams and the AML sub-committee. We have implemented an internal AML policy and have appointed internal auditors for our processes.||Complete|
We will undertake a review of our existing procedures for investigating complaints and work with the Scottish Government and Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to agree changes to improve the statutory processes around legal complaints handling.
|We successfully worked with the SLCC and the Faculty of Advocates to come up with as package of “quick fixes” which we believe will improve the current position and are capable of being made by Regulations. We are discussing plans for a consultation with Scottish Government in early 2020. We have reviewed and proposed changes to the decision making and reporting processes which are aimed at improving the speed of the process for those who have complained and members who are the subject of complaints.||Complete|
| Practising certificate regulation
We will review and improve (if required) the policies, processes and rules around the issuing of practising certificates and removal from the roll of solicitors.
|We reviewed two key areas where there may be future rules and/or guidance changes. Significant progress was made with a review of the delegated powers functions within the Practising Certificate sub committee’s remit, with a revised scheme of individual delegation and agreement around reporting being approved by the Regulatory Committee.||Complete|
|Licensed Providers We will seek final authorisation from the Scottish Government as an approved regulator of licenced legal service providers and commence our first licensing of new entities.||There has been limited progress during the year. The Scottish Government carried out a its consultation on the revised Regulatory Scheme, however this has yet to be concluded. Limited progress has been made on the licensing application process.||Complete|
|Financial compliance and client accounts
We will consider whether it is possible to enhance existing public protection around client funds by assessing best practice from other legal jurisdictions.
|This project was put on hold in the early part of the year following the publication of the Legal Services Review report, but may return for consideration in 2020.||Complete|
|Review of legal services regulation
We will work with the Scottish Government and stakeholders, using the report of the independent review of legal services regulation to build a consensus in creating new, flexible and permissive legislation
|Both our Council and our Regulatory Committee responded to the Legal Services Review Report in autumn 2018. The Scottish Government has now committed to a consultation on the report’s proposals and we are part of a group working with the government and other stakeholders to find areas of agreement. A consultation or options paper is likely to be published in early 2020. We have also engaged with the Competition and Markets Authority who are producing a report on the Scottish market, likely to be published early 2020.||Complete|
|Admission to the profession
We will embed the processes and guidance around our new admission regulations and allow, subject to the Lord President’s approval, early admission by trainees.
|The new admissions regulations were approved by the Lord President and the Regulatory Committee and came into effect on 1 November 2019, alongside guidance and website content.||Complete|
We will agree changes to enhance the standards for accredited providers of the LLB law degree and Diploma in Professional Legal Practice.
|Following consultation with providers and consideration by the Education and Training (Standard Setting) Sub-Committee, changes to the accreditation standards were approved and communicated to providers in September.||Complete|
|Route to qualification
We will introduce changes to the outcomes required from the current process to qualify as a solicitor and work towards a solicitor apprenticeship route to qualification.
|Following consultation with providers and the profession, revised outcomes were considered and approved by the Education and Training (Standard Setting) Sub-Committee and intimated to providers. Development work has commenced with Skills Development Scotland and a university provider to create an apprenticeship route to qualification as a solicitor. Several firms are engaged in the process. As planned, this work will continue into the next business year.||Complete|
We will develop new categories of specialist accreditation based on previous research and promote new and existing categories, while maintaining specialist accreditation as a quality mark within the profession.
|There has been an over-all increase in the number of accredited specialisms held by members from around 580 towards the end of 2017/18 to 611, an increase of over 5%. There has also been an increase in the number of enquiries for the creation of new specialisms, indicating a greater awareness of the scheme and the benefits it can offer members. Two enquiries have proceeded to draft applications for new specialisms which will be taken forward in 2019/20.||Complete|
Working to our statutory objectives to protect the public interest and support the interests of justice, the Regulatory Committee has continued to deliver robust and fair regulation of the solicitor profession over the last year.
It can be common for regulation to be considered only in the area of complaints. Whilst the handling of consumer complaints is a vital component of any regulatory system, the responsibility of the Regulatory Committee runs much wider. It includes oversight of the route to qualifying as a solicitor; updating the professional standards to which solicitors must adhere; the proactive inspection of firms to account for client money; and effective management of the Client Protection Fund.
These are responsibilities which members of the Committee take extremely seriously. As convener, I am grateful to all members; solicitors and non-solicitors; for their expertise, commitment and good judgement. That underlying principle of partnership between those from within and outwith the legal sector is a strong one and something I believe helps to deliver effective scrutiny, oversight and improvement.
The first half of our operating year focused on “Fit for the Future” – the report of the independent review of legal services regulation in Scotland. This report to the Scottish Government was published in October 2018.
The Committee considered the content carefully. We welcomed much of the report, including its recommendations for improved regulation of entities and broader cross-border regulation. Many of the proposals in the report reflected the suggestions which have been pursued by the Committee for some time.
However, the Committee believed the report failed to provide a convincing argument or detailed evidence to support the core proposal of creating a new single independent regulator for all legal services.
We have voiced concerns about the potential impact of such a change on the costs that will have to be met by legal service providers and clients. We also believe a new politically appointed body risks undermining the independence of the legal profession, a key element of the rule of law and something the Regulatory Committee has a statutory duty to support. We have made sure these views featured prominently in the Law Society’s consideration of the report.
We strongly welcomed the Scottish Government’s considered response to the report, its commitment to consult widely and its wish to build, where possible, a consensus. We were pleased to host Scottish Government officials at one of our meetings that followed the publication of the report. This allowed for a thorough and positive discussion, one where the Committee’s independence from the Law Society Council could be underscored.
We now look forward to the Scottish Government consulting further and the committee having the opportunity to submit additional proposals ahead of new legislation.
An area of continued concern to the committee is the current complaints process. Too often, the time taken for even simple complaints to be considered and resolved is unacceptably long. This neither benefits the client nor the solicitor complained against.
It is clear that aspects of the reforms introduced in 2008 are not fit for purpose. Change is urgently needed to make the system simpler, quicker and more effective.
The Regulatory Committee has been positive and determined in trying to ensure improvements can be made through secondary legislation where possible. We were pleased to agree a number of suggested reforms with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Taken as a package, these changes offer an opportunity to improve the system, particularly to address the complexity and delay within the eligibility stage of the complaints process administered by the SLCC.
Whilst the Committee has several other ideas on how it can reform the Law Society’s own conduct complaints handling, such changes would require primary legislation and cannot be made by regulations. We will continue to argue for these changes when time is found for a new Bill. Meantime, we hope the Scottish Government will prioritise these short-term regulatory reforms.
A priority area for the Committee during the year was our work to improve price transparency within the legal services market.
This project followed issues raised in the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) report on the legal services market in England and Wales in 2016. That report led some legal regulators south of the border to introduce rules requiring legal service providers to be more transparent about their pricing. Research also shows that an absence of upfront pricing information can leave consumers people overestimating the cost of legal services.
The Committee looked carefully at the arguments which emerged from the CMA report. We recognised that many of the issues highlighted were also relevant and applicable to the Scottish market. Indeed, in the summer of 2019, the CMA announced its own research into the Scottish legal services market with a further focus on price transparency.
Our early consultation with the profession and stakeholders on this issue highlighted strong views on both sides of the argument. The Committee acknowledged that not all areas of legal work easily allow for transparent pricing. Indeed, given the uncertainty which can arise from some legal services such as litigation, forcing publication of prices could inadvertently mislead consumers.
However, recognising that some firms already proactively publish price information, we believed the correct and proportionate way forward was through robust guidance to the profession. That guidance, which is now published, will provide assistance to the profession in terms of how greater transparency can be delivered. The impact of the guidance will be evaluated after the first year of operation.
The Regulatory Committee welcomed the SSDT’s consultation on whether the civil or criminal standard of proof should apply in cases of professional misconduct.
The Committee concluded it was appropriate to change to the civil standard and submitted a response to the SSDT in support of that position. We recognise that, having considered all views and responses to the consultation, the SSDT has chosen to retain the current standard of proof, namely beyond reasonable doubt.
The process around this particular consultation underscores the importance of the Regulatory Committee, with its 50% solicitor and 50% lay membership, being properly equipped to consider significant regulatory issues of this kind.
One of the key areas highlighted in the committee’s 2017/18 report was the Society’s compliance with the EU Fourth Directive on money laundering and the requirements of the new Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering (OPBAS).
This has continued to be a key area of focus and the Committee ensured delivery of an action plan to implement recommendations made by OPBAS. This involved a significant amount of successful work by the AML Team within the Society’s executive.
During the year, we formed a new standalone Anti-Money Laundering Regulatory Sub Committee. Issues relating to AML compliance had previously been dealt with by the Client Protection Sub-Committee. However, it had been agreed with OPBAS that there should be a separate sub-committee to deal this complex landscape and oversee the specialist work required. That sub-committee, made up of solicitors and non-solicitors, is working well and providing support to the work of the staff team.
The Law Society’ Director of Financial Compliance, Ian Messer has continued to chair the United Kingdom Legal Services Affinity Group (LSAG), a group which works with HM Treasury and OPBAS. Ian, whose skills and expertise have been widely recognised, will complete his third year as chair during 2020.
The Committee met a total of six times during the year with a considerable exchange of information between meetings. Committee members also joined the Law Society’s Council strategy session in January 2019 to discuss wider issues relating to the profession and legal services market.
Whilst I have served as a member of the Regulatory Committee for 6 years, this has been my first year as convener. In taking up this role, I have come to appreciate more fully the depth of the work and expertise within the regulatory sub-committees and the Law Society executive team. Colleagues carry out an increasingly complex series of tasks in a professional and effective way. However, I also believe we need to continue to embrace a culture of continuous improvement, looking at everything we do and how we do it, ensuring our regulation of the profession is truly fit for purpose.
I also want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor Carole Ford who concluded her term on the Committee at the end of 2018/19. Carole served on the Regulatory Committee since its inception in 2011 and had been convener for the first seven years. She continued for a further twelve months in order to assist me in my new role. Carole was a highly regarded and respected chair, encouraging contributions and, at the same time, driving the Committee towards making good decisions. We all wish her well for the future.
More broadly, the Regulatory Committee has evolved considerably over the last seven years and will continue to do so. The Committee has moved from being a brand new body to one increasingly confident of its role at the apex of solicitors’ regulation. In the interesting times in which we live, the Committee continues to give thought to how 21st Century regulation should look, protecting the public interest and supporting the profession in ways that are consistent, accountable and proportionate.
Regulatory Committee Convener
The focus of our equality work in 2017-18 was our fourth Profile of the Profession survey and our response to the survey. Nearly 3,000 solicitors and accredited paralegals took part in the survey giving us a robust evidence base for future equality work. We published a blueprint for a more diverse profession outlining 28 steps that we will take in the coming years.
- produce guidance on providing reasonable adjustments
- host a summit aimed at preventing bullying and harassment in the profession
- hold a series of roundtables on gender equality within the profession
- run a digital campaign highlighting solicitors from different backgrounds
- hold a series of roundtables focusing on the experiences of BAME people on the route to qualification
- meet with organisations across the profession to work with them to help create a more inclusive profession.
We published our gender pay gap in April although we are not covered by the gender pay gap reporting regulations as we employ significantly below the 250 staff threshold. We chose to publish our pay gap because we thought it was the right thing to do. Our median pay gap is 21%. As well as providing context for our figures, we identified a number of action points. Recognising that gender equality is not solely a women’s issue, our action points were focused on ensuring everyone in organisation was involved in addressing our gender pay gap by:
- offering unconscious bias to all staff. We ran two optional in-person sessions on unconscious bias (around 30% of staff attended) and followed this with mandatory online training (over 90% of staff have taken part)
- instituting a mentoring programme for our staff (building on our successful mentoring service for members)
- our senior leadership team committing to champion gender equality across all of our activities
- our colleague forum considering how and where we could improve
- beginning to monitor gender at recruitment and selection stages and we will publish findings in early course.
We continued to support the Scottish Ethnic Minorities Lawyers Association; the GLASS Network; and Women in Law Scotland.
We have an overarching objective of leading legal excellence and to be a world-class professional body, understanding and serving the needs of our members and the public.
We are pleased to set out our gender pay report in accordance with the statutory gender pay gap regulations. Under these regulations we are not required to report, however, we believe it is important to our employees, our members and the wider public that we do so to demonstrate our commitment to equality.
The gender pay gap figures provided are based on the difference between the hourly rate of pay for full-pay relevant male and female employees. The gender bonus gap figures are based on the difference between the performance awards paid to relevant male and female employees during the specified 12 month period.
Our gender pay gap shows a mean and median hourly pay gap of 21% in favour of men. Our median gender pay gap for bonus pay shows there is no gap between male and female employees.
Our mean gender pay gap for bonus pay is 1.9% in favour of women.
Our employee profile is 67% female and 33% male.
The percentage of male and female full-pay relevant employees working across pay quartiles.
The percentage of male and female relevant employees receiving a performance award payment in a specified 12-month period.
Our gender pay gap can largely be attributed to an imbalance of male and female employees across the organisation. Approximately 67% of our employees are female yet a higher percentage of our female workforce are concentrated in the lower quartiles. Accordingly, we have proportionally fewer males in the lower quartiles whilst also having a higher percentage of males represented in the upper quartile when compared with the percentage of males employed throughout the organisation.
Monitoring of our recruitment and selection processes has shown that we attract, shortlist and appoint a high percentage of females however we will continue to monitor this to maintain a fair recruitment process.
As a small organisation (circa 130 staff) we are also aware that our figures can fluctuate around the time of gathering our snapshot data.
We have undertaken several actions to promote the importance of gender equality to our organisation, these include:
- Offering unconscious bias training to all our employees.
- Implementing a mentoring programme to aid with career development and succession planning.
- Championing gender equality through the commitments of our senior leadership team to promote gender equality across all our strategic themes.
- Monitoring the gender breakdown at each stage of the recruitment and selection process to identify any areas of improvement.
- Continuing to anonymise candidate data in our selection process to remove the potential for bias.
- Enhancing our flexible working processes to support employees in working more flexibly.
- Undertaking a major profile of the legal profession as part of our wider equality work.
We recognise we need to continue in our efforts to address our gender pay gap. We remain committed to targeting gender equality and have agreed actions to help us achieve this commitment. We understand that gender equality is everyone responsibility and in recognising that, we commit to:
- ensuring our workplace is inclusive by benchmarking our work practices
- removing salary history from our recruitment and selection processes
- continuing to offer our career mentoring programme to aid with career development
- ensuring we use inclusive language in our job adverts
- continuing to develop a strong flexible working culture
- Providing unconscious bias training to those recruiting
- understanding why women leave the organisation and learning from that
- continuing to develop and promote our work on equality in the legal profession
We confirm that our gender pay calculations are accurate and meet the requirements of the regulations.