After listening to and speaking with those working throughout the legal profession about the challenges they face and how they believe the market will develop, we have created a bold, ambitious five-year strategy taking us towards 2020. 

The strategy will see us change our ‘traditional’ approach and pick up our pace of modernisation.

Our purpose is to lead legal excellence – this reflects our leadership role and our pursuit of excellence, taking us beyond simply being successful and respected and recognising that our members operate in and outside of Scotland.

Our mission is to be a world-class professional body – if we are to lead legal excellence then we need to benchmark ourselves in international terms.

When we published our last strategy in 2011, we predicted some big changes:

  • A consolidation of private practice, with fewer larger firms emerging from acquisitions and mergers
  • An impact from continued reductions in public spending
  • A need for some legal firms to look outside of Scotland to sustain their businesses
  • The growing commoditisation of legal services
  • A legal profession which would become younger, with the gender balance swinging decidedly towards females
  • Reforms to our courts and further devolution of power from Westminster to Holyrood

All of these things have come to pass.

The legal market is going through unprecedented change.  The challenge and opportunity  of the digital era coupled with  new expectations from clients  requires those within the legal profession to adapt, to innovate, to modernise, to take risks and grasp new opportunities

There have been other changes such as the significant rise in the use of paralegals, legal executives and legal technicians. We have also seen a growth in legal outsourcing centres, often staffed with non-solicitors.  Even without the provisions of the 2010 Act on alternative business structures being enacted, we have seen new and innovative business models being used by firms.  The general state of the Scottish and UK economies has also changed. When we published our last strategy in 2011, the economy remained in a fragile state.  More recent evidence suggests the economy is on a stronger road to recovery with welcome rises in employment.  Economic forecasts for 2015 are predominantly positive with both the manufacturing and services sectors expected to grow. 

That is why our Council felt it was the right time to review the Law Society’s longer term strategy. When we did, we realised that just like the changing legal market, the Law Society had to change its approach too.  We recognised that, if we are to assure the public, serve our members, influence our stakeholders, to excel and grow as an organisation then we needed to once again look forward and pick up our pace of modernisation.  Put simply, we needed to be bolder, more ambitious and even more effective.

That is why we are publishing this new strategy Leading Legal Excellence. It comes after listening to and speaking with those working throughout the legal market.  We sought to consider the challenges they face and understand how the market will develop over the coming years.  This strategy sets new objectives and stretching targets. At its heart is
a determination to be relevant to our members and the wider public. To do this, we need fresh thinking and to challenge our traditional ways of working. This includes opening up the Law Society membership to those who make such a significant contribution to the success of the legal sector but who are restricted from joining us because they are not solicitors.

It includes an ambitious effort to grow our commercial income, exploiting the benefits which come from our new offices. It also includes a broadening of the support
we offer, so that every member has the opportunity to use a Law Society service every single day.  We now want to use this strategy to spark a conversation with our members and other stakeholders. We want to engage people right across Scotland and beyond.

Our aims are simple – to lead legal excellence, to be a world-class professional body and to deliver for all those who rely on us and the services we provide.

In developing this strategy, we looked carefully at the external environment in which we and the legal profession operate.  We spoke with members and stakeholders to understand how the legal market would likely develop up to 2020 and beyond.

We also used our external political and business relationships to understand the wider changes we can expect over the next five years.  We used all of that intelligence to shape ourthinking. In some cases, we have also chosen to make informed assumptions and assess how that will impact the legal profession.


After the worst economic downturn in a generation,there are many reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the state of the Scottish and UK economies.

Current levels of low inflation and interest rates coupled with high levels of employment and business investment have created more positive expectations in terms of economic performance over the coming years. 

There do however remain challenges such as the continuing uncertainty within the Eurozone alongside weaker economic forecasts for some other developed and developing countries.  Even here in the UK, poor relative rates of productivity are seen as a barrier to higher levels of growth.

The election of a majority Conservative Government in May 2015 means the UK can expect further significant reductions in total public spending in a bid to cut the fiscal deficit.  The UK Government has also given a commitment not to increase income tax, national insurance or corporation tax.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has also continued to promote a pro-business and pro-growth agenda. As such, we expect Scotland and the UK will retain comparably competitive positions for businesses to grow and create employment. This in turn creates a potential positive impact forthe legal profession in terms of increased commercial business in the private sector.

Even taking into account changes in the devolution settlement, changes in total UK public spending are expected to have significant consequences for the Scottish Government budget. This will have an impact on legal professionals working throughout the public sector as well as those firms who are contracted to carry out legal work on behalf of government departments and public bodies.

The Legal Sector

We expect the legal profession to continue to become younger and more female overall. Leadership will be required if the challenges on genderequality are to be tackled.

Females continue to lag behind in terms of pay and seniority, even though new female entrants to the profession outnumber men by two to one. We know work will also be required to tackle other diversity issues such as race and socioeconomic background where there has been limited progress over recent years.

Through the work and reputation of Scottish universities, we expect to continue to attract high quality individuals in terms of studying law. However, given the competitive market that exists, we expect the career options facing legal graduates to become even wider.

The number of employed solicitors within private practice and in-house solicitors will continue to make up an increasing proportion of existing membership. We also expect further structural change in the form of increasing employment of other legal professionals, such as legal executives and paralegals, and a continued outsourcing of legal work.

We expect the consolidation of private practice to continue, maintaining the trend towards fewer and larger legal firms. This will include large cross-border entities which will continue to be major employers of Scottish solicitors but who will be headquartered outside the Scottish jurisdiction. 

We also expect a continuation of the trend which has seen legal firms adopt without the provisions of the 2010 Act on licensed legal services providers. This creates some risk around pockets of unregulated legal services and we will need to be vigilant in terms of maintaining consistent levels of consumer protection.

As the market responds to the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, we also expect more law graduates to seek an internationally recognised and portable qualification that allows them to practise across traditional jurisdictional boundaries. 

To that end and in line with recent trends, we expect a rising percentage of our members to live and work in other parts of the United Kingdom and an increasing number based in other countries around the world.


Thanks in part to the revolution in digital communications, individual, business and institutional consumers of legal services are more informed and have more choice than ever before. 

This will require the providers of legal services to concentrate on delivering consistency and excellent customer service. For the Law Society as a professional body, it requires a relentless focus on setting and maintaining excellent professional standards whilst seeking to build the brand and reputation of our members.

The effects of the economic downturn have also driven consumers to seek increased value for money as well as greater certainty over legal costs through more commoditised services. This all places pressures on the margins of firms working in the legal sector and presents opportunities for those who innovate to meet such client demands.

Coupled with the general improvement in the economy, we expect changes within society to contribute to further growth in the legal services market. The propensity of legislatures and institutions to create new laws and regulations creates new legal requirements and demands for legal services. Even within Scotland, the transfer of work from the highest courts to local courts and a sustained push on the use of alternative dispute resolution, both for individual and corporate cases, creates new sources of business.


We expect the political position within our immediate jurisdiction to remain highly fluid.

This follows the referendum on Scottish independence which led to unprecedented levels of political engagement and activism.

The Scottish result from the UK general election also provided one of the greatest structural shifts in politics in the last 100 years.

We know that further powers will be delivered from Westminster to Holyrood which will give Holyrood greater ability to create new laws and set different policy priorities.

However, we also expect the fundamental questions to continue. Whatever individual views on the position of Scotland within the UK, there is much expectation that a further referendum on Scottish independence will be held in the next ten years. More immediately, there is the vote on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union. Both debates create uncertainty and the outcomes of both will bring major implications for the Law Society and those we serve.

Nevertheless, the Law Society starts from a position of strength in having excellent relationships with both governments and across the whole political divide.

More immediately, we know the current Scottish Government is committed to continuing its programme of reform to criminal law, civil law and our wider justice system and taking forward a digitalisation of our wider justice system.  The Law Society will need to play a full and active role as these debates proceed.

This strategy will be at the centre of our thinking as we head towards 2020. In order to be open and transparent with our members and stakeholders, we will publish an operating plan for each of the next five years.

This will detail the activity we believe is necessary to meet the aims and objectives set out within this strategy. Our staff team will report on the progress in meeting that annual plan to the Law Society Board and Council each month and regularly report on a series of challenging key performance indicators.

We will publish a full annual report each year to explain what we have done and report on our progress in meeting our goals.

Our strategy

This strategy’s purpose and mission describes what we are fundamentally aiming to do and what we are trying to be.

Our purpose is to lead legal excellence – this reflects our leadership role and our pursuit of excellence, taking us beyond simply being successful and respected and recognising that our members operate in and outside of Scotland.

Our mission is to be a world-class professional body – if we are to lead legal excellence then we need to benchmark ourselves in international terms.

We then agreed five strategic goals that if delivered would allow us to meet our purpose and mission.

Our five strategic objectives

We will assure

We will ASSURE our members’ clients and employers by setting and upholding standards that ensure excellent legal and customer service

We will serve

We will SERVE our members through a detailed understanding of their needs, providing tools and services which they can use every day

We will excel

We will EXCEL by operating as a world-class organisation

We will influence

We will INFLUENCE the creation of a fairer and more just society by being an international centre in law and justice thought leadership

We will grow

We will GROW our membership and income by being a vibrant, influential and inclusive organisation