The Society opposes the Roberton proposal to create a new regulatory body as risking the strong public protections and high standards we now maintain, which underpin the profession’s global reputation

I’m sure you will all now be aware of Esther Roberton’s recently published report following her review of legal services regulation. Its primary recommendation – which we strongly oppose – is to create a new single regulatory body, which would remove the regulatory role of the Law Society of Scotland, along with that of the Faculty of Advocates.

At the outset of her review, and in this magazine, Ms Roberton asked an important question: “Why regulate, and what mischief are we trying to prevent?”

We ourselves have long argued the need to update and modernise the framework of legislation on the regulation of legal services, much of which is almost 40 years old. We are fully in favour of change to ensure that consumers are properly protected, that we can maintain the high standards the profession is renowned for, and that we have flexible legislation which can allow the legal sector to thrive, both at home and internationally.

However, despite proposing such a radical and disproportionate change, it is not clear what “mischief” is being addressed by the report’s main proposal. It could, in fact, weaken public protections and risk higher costs for the profession and consumers.

Step too far

The Society has a near 70-year track record of setting high standards for Scottish solicitors and ensuring those standards are met through a robust route to qualification, continuing professional development and specialist accreditation – which has led to the Scottish solicitor qualification being recognised and respected around the world. We also understand the importance of maintaining a system of public protections and consumer redress for whenever our standards are breached or clients do not get the service they deserve.

Setting up a single regulator would mean removing all regulation from the Society – this includes admission of new solicitors, setting standards and rules, financial compliance inspections, anti-money laundering, complaints, intervening when something goes wrong. No other jurisdiction in the world has gone as far as what has been proposed.

A number of our carefully thought-out proposals to improve regulation have been recommended in the report, including the protection of the term “lawyer”, entity regulation and ensuring all legal services are regulated. We believe the focus should be on these and other recommendations which will protect consumers and support the ambitions of the profession.

I would be very pleased to hear your views.

Digital drivers

The legal services review will form a major part of our work over the coming weeks and months; however, driving innovation is key to the success of the profession, and we will not be deterred from focusing on the support we can offer to our members.

Through the newly launched LawscotTech we are bringing together lawyers and experts to develop technology-based solutions, which will deliver practical benefits for those working in the justice and legal sectors and their clients. LawscotTech will provide support from concept stage through to taking a product or service to market, creating huge potential to develop tech-based solutions which can help all legal firms, large and small, city and high street.

The Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service published its digital strategy in June, outlining its priorities around technology to 2023. This will involve developing a digital evidence-sharing capability project, improvements to case management systems, improved video links, and a new facility specifically to allow vulnerable witnesses to give evidence that will open in Glasgow next year. For civil cases, an integrated case management system is to be developed from simple procedure to civil claims in the sheriff court and more widely to the Court of Session, tribunals and OPG – which will of course have to be integrated with practitioners’ existing systems.

Another prime example of how technology can improve our daily grind is the work currently being done by Registers of Scotland, as I saw for myself when I joined some of our members in meeting the new Keeper, Jennifer Henderson. Jennifer was transformation officer at the Defence, Science & Technical Laboratory, ensuring innovative science and technology contributed to the defence and security of the UK, and she has brought a fresh pair of eyes to RoS and managing the change required in the organisation. RoS is working to provide digital tools such as the Digital Discharge and ScotLIS, which will replace Registers Direct as the platform for property information provision, to help our members do their job more easily, and is working hard to clear the arrear. By December 2018 the target is to have no case older than two years.

The Author
Alison Atack is President of the Law Society of Scotland – Twitter: @AtackAlison
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