First, a huge thanks to the 4,466 busy solicitors who took time to vote in the Society’s dual-question referendum on alternative business structures. Today’s result shows that you combined to produce a higher turnout than in any previous referendum – on one of the most important issues the profession has faced. The Society stressed at the outset that, whatever the views expressed, as many members as possible should take part in the process. A healthy 43% of solicitors agreed with that view.

In response to the first question, the membership backed the Society’s policy in support of ABSs, though the vote was very close. On the second question, we received overwhelming support – eight in 10 solicitors – for the Society to apply to regulate ABSs should they be introduced.

The narrow margin in the first vote – almost 50/50 – clearly illustrates the stark difference of opinion in the profession. The fact that such contrasting views exist has resulted in a passionate debate, albeit with some heated remarks on the fringes. The debate, in turn, has generated greater engagement than might otherwise have been expected – a positive outcome due in no small part to those who challenged the policy agreed at the 2008 AGM. But that difference of opinion, with its potential for longer term damage to the profession’s reputation and status, also provides the most compelling reason to move forward together.

As discussions progressed at last month’s special general meeting (SGM) on the same issue, it became clear that there were a number of areas of common ground between opponents and supporters of ABSs. Through various ongoing discussions, the Society is firmly focused on establishing a consensus.

At the same time, the decisive referendum vote in favour of the Society applying to regulate new providers of legal services allows us to continue with our plans to consult on and develop a robust, effective regulatory regime for any structures introduced by the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill.

The recent SGM was adjourned to allow further discussions. The policy of the Society’s Council will be informed both by the referendum result and the outcome of that reconvened meeting. I look forward to a debate that reinforces our reputation as a strong, respected profession and allows us to look ahead with a common sense of purpose.

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