Mid-August and the Edinburgh Festivals are in full swing – the time of year when the population of the city is said to double in size with visitors from around the world. And an unscientific survey of accents and languages during a walk to the sandwich shop this lunchtime, suggests a fair proportion have made the relatively short trip from England & Wales.
Attention has not just turned to Scotland for cutting edge arts and culture. Increasingly, the legal profession is also taking an interest in developments north of the border.
Reform of the legal services marketplace may have begun in England & Wales – set in motion by Clementi’s review and then taken forward with the introduction of the Legal Services Act at Westminster – but the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill followed soon after at Holyrood. And, when enacted later this year, it is likely to lead to substantially different changes. Measures in the bill that have attracted favourable comment down south include the proposal to retain our dual representative and regulatory role, and the requirement for new providers to be majority owned by solicitors or solicitors and other regulated professionals, as agreed following a helpful debate prompted by the Scottish Law Agents Society and others.
Discussions about the future of the Master Policy continue, but envious glances have certainly been cast in its direction since the loss of the Solicitors Indemnity Fund in England & Wales. Understandably so – it is one of the jewels in our crown. Procurement by the Society on behalf of the entire profession in private practice allows us to negotiate the best rates and has avoided the difficulties experienced by colleagues elsewhere.
Although the differences of opinion over the bill have focused on the provisions that allow new licensed legal services providers, one proposal has met with broad enthusiasm – the regulation of non-lawyer will writers. Another first for Scotland. Long promoted by the Society, the regulatory measures in the bill will give the same consumer protections to those who seek advice from non-lawyer will writers as currently exist for solicitors’ clients. Again, there has been interest from England, with the Worcestershire-based Fellowship of Professional Willwriters and Probate Practitioners already publicly expressing an interest in regulating Scottish will writers.
The effect of the reforms north and south will not be known for some time, though the formation of Westminster’s first coalition Government since the Second World War caused some initial media speculation, since subsided, about the full implementation of their Legal Services Act. By comparison, power-sharing or minority government have been ever-present at Holyrood since devolution, leading to considerable experience of cross-party working on a range of issues, including the Legal Services Bill.
Like thousands of others, I too will be attending the festival this week. Alongside one or two more mainstream events, I will be at the Society-sponsored Festival of Politics – with so much current interest in Scots law and Scottish politics, surely a must for festival-goers!Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland