Speaking to a number of solicitors since publication of the Scottish Government's consultation paper on the future for legal services, it is clear that the debate carried on last year over the introduction of alternative business models is still regarded as live.
Despite the large majority at the Society's AGM last May in favour of the policy paper which has informed the Government's own proposals, voices are still being raised against the whole idea. Firms combining different professionals can't work, it is said, because of the different professional codes they have to follow. Or, professional independence simply cannot co-exist with any form of outside ownership of a legal practice.
The last thing I want to do is play down the issues at stake, or the strength of feeling behind the professional independence argument. Not so long ago it would have passed almost without question in the profession. However we have now reached a position where the Law Society of Scotland, by a vote of its membership, has formally adopted a different line and the Government has built that into its own legislative planning. With the consumer bodies and others pressing for change in the same direction, we are not likely now to see a less radical outcome than that put forward by the Society.
So we have moved on, and those who feel uncomfortable with where we appear to be heading would perhaps best direct their energies towards insisting that whatever regime is to be put in place to police providers of legal services in future, is sufficiently watertight that professional independence and the other core values are kept to the fore. The Society will be looking for no less, and indeed the Government's paper also lays some emphasis on these.
With such a community of interest, if people's efforts are directed to the same end, there must be a good prospect of a satisfactory and workable outcome.