For so many reasons, solicitors in Scotland and the public who use their services are better served by retaining a single body for regulating and representing the legal profession. At the heart of the issue is the question of what it is to be a profession. The rights and duties that a profession has, and the relationship between regulation of the profession and representation of its members by the profession, are not mutually exclusive. These roles can rest within a single professional body that both regulates and represents.
Providing that dual function through the Law Society of Scotland ensures effective leadership. Its elected Council is well placed to promote, lead, represent and support the Scottish solicitors’ profession. The Council can make informed decisions on the way forward and ensure that effective regulation remains with the profession while maintaining the interests of the profession, which do not differ from the interests of the public in relation to that profession.
The Council is made up of elected members drawn from the profession throughout Scotland. They make decisions for the whole profession based on their knowledge and experience in practice. The Council is informed and assisted in the delivery of its decisions by more than 600 solicitor and non-solicitor committee members who add relevant, practical knowledge and insight through the Society’s extensive committee structure covering a plethora of areas of interest to the profession. Providing a forum for differing interests and views is part of being a profession and the Society’s committees and Council allow it to debate, decide and then act.
In operating through the Society in this way, the profession speaks with one voice. A single professional body that includes other representative groups provides a focus for regulation, representation and support. That, in turn, ensures credibility, recognition and respect both among legal groups and other bodies, such as Government and Parliament, while closely safeguarding our independence.
Coming together in one body also greatly enhances our negotiating power, for instance, in relation to legal aid rates and other fees. In addition, 1,250 firms provide significant purchasing leverage. The Master Policy for professional indemnity insurance is a prime example of the Society securing best value for members.
Crucially, there are also significant cost savings in having one organisation covering various functions. The costs of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Scottish Legal Aid Board show the effect of splitting off functions from the Society. Likewise, when regulatory and representative roles were separated in England & Wales, the cost of a practising certificate increased substantially. It should also be borne in mind that splitting the Society’s functions could result in provision of regulation – rather than representation – by a body independent of the profession. This cannot be an attractive option.
Our own decisions are best informed and moderated by being a professional body responsible for regulation, representation and support. That allows the Society to make practical decisions which work for the profession. When dealing with individual cases, there is clear separation between support and the regulatory functions. For example, there is a confidentiality protocol for advice given to members on rules, and practice enquiries. Yet, effective regulation alongside support for solicitors allows us to maintain the highest professional standards by promoting the delivery of quality services and building the trust of clients.
All of this ensures that the badge of the Scottish solicitor is a mark of distinction that sets solicitors apart from unregulated legal advisers. That badge represents what it means to be a profession: a common commitment to the rule of law; the importance of personal integrity; and, the realisation that professional privilege brings with it an equal obligation to work for the public good. The Society promotes and protects that badge for the profession.
Solicitors in Scotland are a diverse group. But small and large firms, urban and rural, private practice and in-house all belong to the same profession. And the title of Scottish solicitor is best and most instantly defined as being a member of the Law Society of Scotland.
The Society’s Council, committees and staff work tremendously hard for the profession. There will always be times when members might disagree with some of Council’s policies, priorities and decisions, but the way to best shape the future is by engaging with the Society. Solicitors can stand for election to the Council or join a committee. By listening to diverse views and seeking constructive solutions, we will move forward as a united, effective and respected profession.Jamie Millar, President-elect, the Law Society of Scotland Like to comment on this article? Please use the box below. Comments will be checked and then put live.