Members continue to regard effective regulation as the Society’s highest priority, and work will continue to identify the improvements that will result in the most efficient and effective system

The profession believes the regulation of Scotland’s solicitors is among the most important work carried out by the Society. As with previous years, the annual survey of members’ views – published this month – identified key aspects of our regulatory role as the highest priorities. Intervening in critical situations to protect the public, setting professional standards, inspecting firms to ensure compliance with accounting rules and investigating conduct complaints were all regarded as vital areas of the Society’s work.

Encouragingly, 83% of respondents agreed that the Society was an effective regulator, with a slightly higher number believing we should continue to regulate and represent the legal profession in Scotland.

Shortly before publication of our research, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s half-yearly statistics provided an insight into the pattern of complaints against solicitors. While it was reassuring that the downward trend for complaints continued in the second half of last year, it remains as important as ever that we understand the reasons behind client dissatisfaction.

Still seeking improvement

Last year, the Society conducted a review of the way our regulatory system works to ensure it remains fair and relevant, considering a number of fundamental changes and taking forward the possibility of moving towards a system that focuses on regulating firms as entities as well as individual solicitors.

At the same time, we moved away from pursuing reforms that would involve relying more on a principles and outcomes based regulatory approach, due to a lack of enthusiasm from the profession. Instead, we will carry out a thorough review of our current rules and guidance. Regulation must be proportionate, while also avoiding unnecessary complexity, bureaucracy and cost, a concern raised by colleagues in other jurisdictions, including south of the border. Follow-up papers for discussion and consultation on entity regulation will be issued to gather further feedback from members.

In regulating and representing the profession, we must provide the support, information and training that allow our members to meet client needs and drive up standards. Although our research among the public shows that satisfaction with the services provided by solicitors remains high, at 90%, there is no room for complacency.

Steps forward

As well as making commendable efforts to deal with service complaints effectively, the SLCC also deserves recognition for attempting to control operating costs. Published last month, its draft operating plan and budget for 2015-16 proposed an overall reduction of around 2.5%, with the levy to decrease by 4% for those in private practice and 10% for in-house solicitors. A robust and adequately funded complaints system is vital if professional standards and public confidence are to be maintained. However, the SLCC’s charging model should also take account of the difficulties many solicitors have experienced in recent years. The Society is considering feedback from members and will submit a formal response before the SLCC budget is laid before the Scottish Parliament.

Priorities for debate – and action

At the beginning of this month, we published our priorities for the next UK Government, which include a stable constitutional settlement, protecting human rights and the ECHR, clarity on EU membership and the value of legal services to our economy. Through the ages, lawyers have been at the heart of civic society and decision-making processes. The Society is determined to continue to perform that role – working with the governments at Westminster and Holyrood to improve our legal system, maintain the rule of law and maintain a sustainable system of publicly funded legal aid.

These and many other key issues facing legal systems and professions around the world will no doubt feature in next month’s Commonwealth Law Conference in Glasgow. Additional, final touches are being made to an already world-class programme, which brings together high-profile speakers from here in Scotland and across the Commonwealth. Don’t miss out on such a fantastic event on your doorstep.

Visit the conference website at www.clc2015.co.uk

The Author
Alistair Morris is President of the Law Society of Scotland – president@lawscot.org.uk
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