We know the spread of coronavirus is placing enormous pressure on the legal profession. We are already undertaking a range of activities to support solicitors deal with this challenge. However, we want to do more and are looking carefully at what additional measures including financial measures that we could take. We will keep our members informed throughout and, as always, we are keen to hear feedback from our members

We are continuing to monitor official advice and updates from the Scottish Government and NHS to ensure that we are acting in accordance with the latest guidance to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees, members and stakeholders, while continuing to carry out our duties as the professional body for Scottish solicitors and provide services for our members and for members of the public.

This is an extremely fast-moving situation and we will be keeping this page up to date with useful information and signposts to online resources.

What's New

Given the volume and frequency of updates to this page we'll highlight key additions and changes here.

Wednesday 1 April 2020
  • Information on sitting in requirements for the early admission of trainees. Find out more in Trainees and students | Trainee early admission - sitting in requirements.
  • There is also information about the work the Society is undertaking to establish the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on traineeship recruitment. Read more in Trainee and students | Trainee recruitment
  • The Accounts Certificate has moved online for all firms and with immediate effect. Go to Practice updates / Financial Compliance contacting and working with the Financial compliance team for further information 

 

Monday 30 March 2020
  • Revenue Scotland has issued information that agents and taxpayers should be aware of. Find out more below under Information and support for solicitors | COVID-19 updates from legal sector organisations.
  • HMRC has provided updates on Stamp Duty. See below under Information and support for solicitors | Stamp Duty.
Friday 27 March 2020
  • Clarification provided on whether those lenders who have approved the use of the Registers of Scotland Covid 19 Interim Measures, still require individual approval for each transaction from the lender. Read more in Practice updates |Registers of Scotland and conveyancing below.
  • Clarification provided as to whether undertakings should be used during this time. The use of undertakings is optional however if members wish to use undertakings to document ongoing obligations to apply for or consent to apply for a further Advance Notice then this would be acceptable practice. Read more in Practice updates|Registers of Scotland and conveyancing below.
  • Minimum CPD requirements for the 2019/20 practice year have been suspended. Read more in Practice Updates|CPD requirements for 2019/2020 below.
  • We will be flexible on deadlines for information relating to conduct complaints during this time. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have also published information to members recognising that deadlines may need to be extended. Read more in Practice Updates|Conduct complaints.
  • Links to Lord Advocate's Guidance on liberation and details of how to sign up to remote access facilities with the Scottish Prison Service have been added to the section called Information and support for solicitors|COVID-19 updates from legal sector organisations.
  • Information on potential sources of information and financial support including the Clio emergency relief fund which is open to all Scottish firms and solicitors, not just current Clio clients, has been aded to the section called Business support information|Other sources of information and support.
  • More information about the assessment process for LLB students including confimation that the Society does not require universities to use examinations, online or otherwise, as other forms of assessment are available. Trainees and students|Student study and assessment arrangements.
  • The Society’s Admissions Sub-committee has agreed to reduce the amount of TCPD required for trainees qualifying before 30 June 2020. Read more in Trainees and Students | TraineeCPD

  • Information on the working arrangements of the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration and Children's Hearing Scotland from 27 March. Read more in Information and support for solicitors | Covid-19 updates from legal sector organisations

Thursday 26 March 2020
  • New guidance was issued to property solicitors to support Registers of Scotland interim measures for settlement of conveyancing transactions. Read more in Practice Updates|Registers of Scotland and conveyancing.
  • Our Property Law Committee also issued some helpful guidance to assist those dealing with property related matters. See Practice Updates|Property solicitors' guidance.
  • Additional information on what the Scottish Government defines as key workers and the difference between this and essential business has been added to Information and support for solicitors|Key workers and essential business.
  • A summary of the UK Chancellor's announcement about a support package for the self-employed including 'members of partnerships' added to Business support information|Government business support measures.
Practice updates
Anti-money Laundering Regulations

Please be aware that for those firms which are within the scope of the 2017 Anti-Money Laundering Regulations, compliance with the regulations is a legislative requirement and while our inspection regime will, as always, operate proportionately, the Society is not able to waive or otherwise relax any of these requirements.

We would remind firms to adopt a risk-based approach, taking into account the contents of their practice unit risk assessment, their policies and procedures and the circumstances of individual matters. Solicitors may choose to adopt or further utilise electronic means of identity verification (instead of face-to-face documentary verification) where appropriate, given the risks inherent in the client/transaction. Further general information on electronic verification can be found in the AML ‘frequently asked questions’ on our website and the UK legal sector AML Guidance.

AML Certificate - deadline extended

We know that, for some firms, it may in fact be easier to find time to complete the certificate process, as client facing meetings may be reduced, but we understand that some firms which will find this more difficult. 

In light of current circumstances, we have taken the decision to extend the AML Certificate submission period and move the deadline back to 12 June 2020.

You can find further information about the AML Certificate on our website.

We are liaising with a number of stakeholder organisations and other regulators to share best practice in the current environment.

We would advise our members to review their current contingency or continuity plans for emergencies or issues such as extreme weather or illness, including the current coronavirus outbreak, to ensure they can meet their clients’ needs as far as possible while protecting staff and client welfare.

While we cannot comment on any individual organisation’s contingency planning, our inspection function will adopt a proportionate response to the impact may have on firms’ compliance.

We will continue to provide updates and information to support your compliance and practice in these unprecedented times.

Please see the additional information on anti-money laundering, the AML Certificate and how to contact our financial compliance team

We recognise the challenges faced by firms and individual solicitors at this time and will be flexible on deadlines for information relating to conduct complaints. Those subject to new and ongoing complaints managed by the Law Society will be contacted individually or can contact their appointed complaints investigator to discuss. As our staff are now working from home contact will be primarily by email. If you have not previously shared an email address with us please drop us a line at reg@lawscot.org.uk

If you do not have access to email please visit the Contact Us page of our website for alternative contact options.

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)

The SLCC has issued advice for practitioners and firms on service standards and complaints. It has also issued an update stating that while it aims to avoid a significant overall effect on complaint resolution times, deadlines for complainers and lawyers may need to be extended.

Update as at 31 March 2020
Law Society guidance to enable Registers of Scotland's interim measures for settlement of conveyancing transactions during Covid-19 restrictions.

Public health must be at the forefront of all decisions during this difficult time and members should not put themselves, their staff, clients or members of the wider public at risk.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions)(Scotland) Regulations 2020 have now come into force. This guidance must be read in conjunction with the Regulations and the Scottish Government Coronavirus (Covid-19): guidance on moving home

In line with Scottish Government guidance, parties should seek to reschedule settlements rather than moving home at this time. As such, our guidance below should only be followed when it is reasonably necessary to move home in terms of the Regulations.

Regulation 6 sets out exceptions to restrictions on gatherings.  Where it is reasonably necessary to facilitate a house move is one such exception. A breach of the Regulations constitutes a criminal offence. Under Regulation 8, a defence to such a charge of a criminal offence under this Regulation is to show that the person, in the circumstances, had a reasonable excuse.  Regulation 8(5)(l) refers to moving home where reasonably necessary, as an example of a reasonable excuse. You will note that the Scottish Government’s guidance expands on this and highlights that such settlements remain subject to safety precautions being taken.

Background

As you know, the Law Society of Scotland has been working around the clock with Registers of Scotland, UK Finance and other stakeholders to try to find a way to settle urgent transactions following the closure of the Applications Record of the Land Register of Scotland.

This morning (26 March 2020), UK Finance has confirmed that most major lenders are on board, so, with the Government restrictions and the health and safety of all those involved in any property transactions at the forefront of our discussions we, with the support of the Registers of Scotland and UK Finance, have issued guidance which will support the RoS Covid-19 interim measures.

The interim measures will apply to a limited number of transactions which do not conflict in any way with the Government restrictions and our recommendation remains that parties to transactions should attempt to reschedule settlements rather than settling during the closure of the Application Record.

The Covid 19 Interim Measures are being applied by Registers of Scotland wherever this an Advance Notice. There is no need to obtain  Registers of Scotland’s specific approval of their application of to a particular transaction.

Guidance

Following closure of the Application Record on 24 March, the Law Society of Scotland has been working with Registers of Scotland, UK Finance and other stakeholders on an interim solution which will allow a number of essential transactions to proceed to settlement within the next week or so.

The obvious risk of settling a transaction during the Application Record closure is that, following settlement, the Disposition in favour of the purchaser, and any Standard Security in favour of a lender, will not be capable of registration until such time as the Application Record reopens. This leaves the purchaser’s title and the lender’s security at risk from the insolvency of the granter of either deed.

In the normal course of events, protection against the registration of another deed is provided for a period of 35 days from registration of the Advance Notice. The concern at present is that while the Application Record closure is temporary, it is possible - or even likely - that the Application Record will not reopen before the protected period ends and any deed unregistered at that point will be vulnerable to the insolvency of the granter of that deed.

The Covid-19 Interim Measures proposed initially by Registers of Scotland are that the protected period of Advance Notices be extended beyond the period of the Application Record closure. While it is proposed that this be achieved through emergency legislation, as an alternative until amending regulations can be approved, the Keeper proposes to selectively open the Application Record to accept on to the Register extensions of certain Advance Notices. By extending the protected period, the intention is to ensure that a deed for a settled transaction remains protected beyond the period of the Application Record closure so that registration at that point can be effected.

The Property Law Committee (and UK Finance) have carefully assessed these proposals and has worked with Registers of Scotland on the final wording of the Covid-19 Interim Measures and we believe that these do provide a framework that can allow the legal component of transactions to settle.

There are however some essential steps which must be in place before a particular transaction can safely settle:

  1. First and foremost is the requirement that Advance Notices be registered already. The protection from an Advance Notice is essential so cannot be dispensed with in favour of a Letter of Obligation.

    The Application record is open to electronic submissions and therefore an Advance Notice over a whole registered in the Land Register can be submitted in the normal way.

    Registers of Scotland are now able to accept  Advance Notices for First Registration and Transfer of Part by email. Further information on this can be found on Registers of Scotland website.

  1. There must be delivery of signed deeds. At settlement the Disposition must have been delivered to the purchaser’s solicitor and the Standard Security must have also been delivered to the lender’s solicitor (which in most cases will be the borrower’s solicitor). This could however be constructive delivery by email agreement between solicitors so that the selling solicitor can demonstrate or confirm that the disposition has been validly executed and is being treated as delivered on the basis it will be physically delivered to the Purchaser's solicitor immediately after the Applications Record re-opens.

    Members holding principal deeds are reminded not to send paper applications to RoS at this time and to retain same until we have further advice from RoS as to when they will be in a position to reopen the Application Record to allow registration of these deeds.

While the above is an interim solution to allow some transactions to settle, the strong recommendation from the Property Law Committee remains that, parties to transactions should attempt to reschedule settlements rather than settling during the closure of the Application Record.

The above interim solution is designed solely to deal with one particularly important legal problem arising from the closure of the Application Record. A conveyancing settlement requires a number of different parties to be able to implement various legal and practical processes, which in the current circumstances are becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

The current restrictions imposed by Government are for the protection of public health during a national and international emergency. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the current – and any future - advice from Government and the safety of members, their staff, clients and the wider public should be the most important factor in deciding whether or not it is appropriate to proceed with settlement of a transaction in present circumstances.

Members should be careful to obtain clear instructions from clients, including lenders, to settle transactions in the above circumstances. Members should also be wary of the vulnerability of clients looking to purchase a home in the present circumstances and be careful to ensure that a client’s informed consent to proceed is adequately obtained.

We have confirmation from UK Finance that the following lenders are agreeable to these proposals:

  • Lloyds Banking Group (all brands, i.e. Bank of Scotland, Halifax, Halifax Intermediaries, Lloyds, BM Solutions and Scottish Widow Bank)
  • Nationwide
  • HSBC
  • Barclays
  • Scottish Building Society
  • RBS (RBS, Natwest, Ulster Bank brands)
  • Skipton Building Society
  • TSB
  • UKAR entities (Bradford & Bingley, Mortgage Express, NRAM Ltd)
  • Clydesdale Bank plc (Virgin Money, Clydesdale Bank, Yorkshire Bank Home Loans)
  • Santander
  • Aldermore
  • Yorkshire Building Society / Accord Mortgages
  • Coventry Building Society
  • Handelbanken
  • Hanley Building Society
  • Cumberland Building Society
  • Newcastle Building Society
  • Bank of Ireland

We will continue to update this guidance as we have further information from UK Finance.

Lenders

We understand that there is uncertainty as to whether those lenders who have approved the use of the Registers of Scotland Covid 19 Interim Measures, still require individual approval for each transaction from the lender.

Our view is that those lenders have provided a generic approval for the settlement under the Registers of Scotland Covid 19 Interim Measures, and approval on a transaction by transaction basis is not required. All the other requirements to report etc to the lenders and the need to comply with lenders standing instructions remain in place.

Undertakings

We have been asked for our view as to whether undertakings should be used during this time. The use of undertakings is optional however if members wish to use undertakings to document ongoing obligations to apply for or consent to apply for a further Advance Notice then this would be acceptable practice.

Where these are agreed we would expect:

(i)  the core content of the undertaking would be for the seller to apply for or to consent to the application for further advance notices until the application record re-opened; and for the seller not to apply for any other advance notices.

(ii) These undertakings should be on behalf of clients and not firm undertakings.

If an undertaking fails, Registers of Scotland policy, under their Covid19 interim measures, allows for the Keeper to selectively open the Application Record to accept on to the Register extensions of certain Advance Notices. 

None of the measures proposed should be in any way used to compel settlement of a transaction where someone is shielding from the virus

You can download a PDF copy of the guidance here.

_______________________________

Registers of Scotland: Emergency Registrations

For transactions that do not meet the requirements as set out in the guidance above, but where there are extreme adverse consequences should the transaction not settle, it is Registers of Scotland’s intention is to allow a limited number of ‘emergency’ registrations. Please refer to RoS website for the latest updates and Q&A.

Members are asked to understand and advise clients that only a very limited number of high hardship cases could be handled via this service. 

We are conscious that many courts are issuing guidance on cases which will be continued to future diets. Solicitors are being asked to notify the court whether or not they are asking for the case to call, which will require an attendance.

Please pay particular attention to communications coming from your courts, but in the meantime we are issuing the following guidance:

  • in deciding whether or not to attend court use your personal judgement and consider your own health, the health of your family and everyone else.
  • if after having done so please exercise your professional judgment about whether or not it is necessary for you to attend personally. If you decide not to attend, please attempt to contact the court and your client by email or phone, and keep a record of you having done so. The Court Service, like many organisations, have reduced numbers of staff available due to the current outbreak.
  • if you decide it is absolutely essential that you attend personally you should strictly observe the social distancing requirements.
  • please exercise your judgment on the number of practitioners needing to attend and keep that to essential only. This could be done by working collegiately with other solicitors in your area to reduce the number of solicitors required.
  • continue to check relevant websites and social media for updated information.
Links to relevant information

Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service

Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

The Faculty of Advocates issued a Dean's ruling on 24 March to extend rights of Counsel to appear without the instructing solicitor (currently available in civil matters) to all criminal matters excluding trials. This does not change the obligation of solicitors to instruct counsel or solicitor advocates. We would remind all members of their responsibility to liaise with both clients and counsel about any changes to their availability during this time.

This is an unprecedented challenge and we are endeavouring to provide as much clarity as possible and working hard to obtain clarity where we do not have it. For that reason please keep checking back at this page and keep an eye out for updates from us.

Please stay safe and remember to care for your own emotional well-being during this challenging time, guidance and help is available on the Lawscot Wellbeing pages.

All Law Society classroom CPD & Training courses until June 17 (inclusive) are postponed and will be rearranged for a later date within this CPD year. Details of the new dates will be sent to registered delegates in due course. Those members who have paid for a course are invited to join the rearranged date, choose a similar event for attendance later this year, or email us on cpd@lawscot.org.uk

You can find out more here.  

You may wish to access our online library to undertake online CPD in lieu of attending any events 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Rights of audience

All Law Society regulatory courses, such as Rights of Audience, including all exams, oral assessments and training days are postponed. Please email emmagrant@lawscot.org.uk if you have any queries.

Practice Management Course

All new partners due to attend the Practice Management Course on May 27 will be issued advice on new dates and possible waivers in the coming weeks.

Engagement events

All our engagement events, including High Street, In-house, England & Wales have been postponed. We will be back in touch as soon as possible with rearranged dates.

 ET&Q events

All our Education, Training & Qualifications events are now postponed. We will be back in touch as soon as possible with rearranged dates. If you have any queries, please email: legaleduc@lawscot.org.uk

 Trainee CPD

All Law Society Trainee CPD days are postponed and advice will be issued to candidates in the coming weeks. Please contact Dean Wands at: deanwands@lawscot.org.uk

In light of the current circumstances the Regulatory Committee of the Society has agreed that minimum CPD requirements for the 2019/2020 practice year are suspended.

Instead the CPD hours should be viewed as indicative figures to be met if possible. We believe this is a proportionate and pragmatic step for a temporary period.

Members who are required to undertake other mandatory professional development, such as new managers of practice units who are required to complete a Practice Management Course, still need to do so.

Even without the minimum CPD requirement for this year keeping up to date in relevant practice disciplines and in other areas such as risk management and practice management is still extremely important. Despite the current constraints, CPD remains available in many forms, including through private study and online and members should strive to undertake CPD wherever it is professionally necessary.

We will continue to publish information and support to help members access and carry out CPD and keep up to date throughout the rest of the practice year.

The CPD requirements will return to normal on 1 November 2020 for the next practice year.

Please keep an eye on our website for updated information and contact us if you need any additional support or guidance.

Submitting documents

Many of the Law Society team are now working remotely, so if you are submitting documents to us, please do so by email rather than sending us hard copy.

Accounts Certificates

Dues to the Accounts Certificates rules and in order to protect your compliance during this difficult time, we will continue to request that practice units submit your accounts certificates in accordance with the timescales set out in the accounts rules

We have been reviewing the content and format of our Accounts Certificate in recent months and we have now moved the process online for all firms.

In terms of content, the key changes will be as follows,

  • Removal of the questions relating to anti-money laundering (AML) to avoid duplication as these are now covered by the AML Certificate process
  • Addition of new questions which will enable us to monitor the financial health of practice units and tailor our information and support more effectively.

When you log in to complete your certificate, you will automatically be directed to the online correct form, depending on whether your firm holds a client bank account and whether you submit to SLAB for payments, so if any of these details have changed for your firm, please let us know and we will update our records accordingly

You can find further information and hard copy forms for your reference on our website and we will send you the usual online updates and reminders in due course.

We are aware that this is an extremely challenging time and your priority must be the health and safety of yourself, your colleagues, family and friends. If, as a result of the current circumstances, you are having difficulty completing your accounts certificate, obtaining signatures or you have any other issues or queries, please do not hesitate to contact us at fincomp@lawscot.org.uk

If you prefer to talk to a member of the team, you can call Kerry Allan on 0131 476 8355

Inspection and other Financial Compliance matters

We would ask that you email rather than send hard copies of any documents or responses relating to earlier financial compliance inspections to Fincomp@lawscot.org.uk

Again, in the interests of your compliance and business continuity, we would request that you aim to submit these within the agreed timescales, but if you are unable to meet the agreed timescales or are having difficulty complying with any aspect of the accounts rules do not hesitate to get in touch.

If you prefer to talk to a member of the team, you can call Alison Ramsay on 0131 476 8127, Samantha Duff on 0131 476 8112, Sharon Brownlee on 0131 476 8177 or Natalie Cooke on 0131 476 8121

AML Certificates

Due to current conditions we have decided to extend the deadline for AML Certificate completion to 12 June 2020. Please continue to send any queries regarding AML Certificates or other aspects of our AML supervision to AML@Lawscot.org.uk.

If you prefer to talk to a member of the team, you can call Fraser Sinclair on 0131 476 8113 or Alex White on 0131 476 8150

Remote Inspection

Finally, we will not be carrying out any on-site inspections until further notice.  We are taking steps to implement remote monitoring and we will contact a sample of firms to take part in a remote exercise in due course.

We appreciate that solicitors will be limiting their contact with clients for the foreseeable future. To allow solicitors to identify and verify their clients during this time we suggest utilising apps such as Skype or Whatsapp to ascertain who the client is and to assist with the identification and verification process.

  1. Request the client to capture a clear, legible colour image of their passport / ID document and ask them to email it to you.
  2. Arrange to video call the client. During this call, ask the client to hold the passport / ID document to their face. By checking the emailed copy along with capturing the image of the client with the passport / ID document, you should be satisfied that they are one of the same before proceeding
  3. In addition to the passport / ID document, ask the client to email you a copy of their valid proof(s) of address
  4. Verify the information using your electronic verification software. The service provider should be a reliable, independent digital ID system with appropriate risk mitigation measures in place1[i]
  5. Ensure that you document the rationale for adopting your revised identification and verification measures in the client / matter level risk assessment and to risk grade the relationship accordingly
  6. Policies, controls and procedures should be revised to take into account the new process

Should the client and / or matter in question raise additional red flags and present a higher risk of money laundering, the firm should ensure that they are satisfied that those risks are addressed before proceeding.

It is important to note that the regulations have not been relaxed in the current situation.  We hope our suggested procedure above is useful but solicitors should remember that if they cannot complete adequate due diligence they should not proceed with the transaction.

We may publish further updates in due course.

[i]  The Financial Action Task Force recently published its “Digital Identity” guidance and will be added to the AML tool kit in due course.

 

Given the current situation where the Governments’ restrictions prevent non-essential face-to-face meetings,  potential workarounds include the following

  1. Ask the prospective client to contact their accountant or another identifiable professional that the client has an established relationship with, to request that they review copies of due diligence documentation the client sends across
  2. The prospective client emails the documentation, for example, copies of valid proof(s) of address and passport to the certifier
  3. The certifier reviews the details they already hold on file for the prospective client to ensure that it is correct and matches up to new information provided
  4. If correct, the certifier emails both the client and a contact at the firm from their professional email address confirming:
  • Their relationship to the client
  • How long they have known the client
  • That the details on the valid proof of address matches the details they, in their professional capacity, hold on file
  • That the photograph in the valid passport bears a true likeness to the client
  • Their job title, full name, address and contact numbers if not included in their email signature
  1. You should conduct an online check to establish the identity of the certifier and their company / firm and retain a screenshot of the same for their records. Similarly, you can check online to see if the certifier is registered with the professional body they purport to be a member of.

The certifier could use the Adobe “fill and sign function” to certify that the copies he has had sight of mirror the details that he holds on file and include the information in (a to d) above.

You should amend your policies, controls and procedures accordingly to reflect the interim changes and to record the new procedure in their client / matter risk assessments.

Should the client and / or matter in question raise additional red flags and present a higher risk of money laundering, the firm should ensure that they are satisfied that those risks are addressed before proceeding. In higher risk situations, for example, further verification (including verification of source of funds/wealth) will likely be appropriate.

It is important to note that the regulations have not been relaxed in the current situation.  We hope our suggested procedure above is useful but solicitors should remember that if they cannot complete adequate due diligence they should not proceed with the transaction.

Further updates may be published on our website in due course.

Any document which has to be executed in the presence of a notary must be signed by the deponent in the presence of the notary or, if the document has been signed in advance, that the signature is acknowledged by the deponent. In the latter situation it is preferable to have the document signed again by the deponent.

It is a legal requirement for the document to be signed “in the presence” of the notary. This does not allow for use of audio or video technology and a notary will have to be face-to-face with the deponent.

Until such time as there is a legislative change, it is not possible for a solicitor to notarise a document remotely.

Covid-19 – Best practice for execution of powers of attorney when it is not possible to meet with the client

Sections 15, 16 and 16A of the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 require that the solicitor certifying capacity has interviewed the granter immediately before the granter subscribed the document.

We appreciate that, given the current situation, solicitors may not be able to meet clients, or may wish to avoid meeting them, for the safety of their clients, themselves and others. At the same time they will, as far as possible, wish to maintain accessibility to the legal services that the public requires. It will rarely be appropriate to delay complete fulfilment of an instruction to have a power of attorney granted and registered. We have therefore been looking at ways that solicitors are able to discharge their obligations and, with (agreement/approval) from the Public Guardian, the following procedure may be adopted to satisfy the legislative requirements. 

  1. The solicitor would require to provide the granter with the power of attorney document in advance either by post or, where the client has facilities to print it off, by email (preferably a PDF version which cannot be altered).
  2. The granter of the document should not sign the document in advance of the interview.
  3. The granter must show the solicitor via video conference that the document is unsigned prior to the interview.
  4. The interview will take place and all the normal requirements for such an interview should be fulfilled, during the video conferenced interview.
  5. If, following all normal criteria, the solicitor is satisfied that the document can properly be certified, then, at the solicitor’s request, the granter should sign the document and the witness should sign as appropriate. The granter should then show the solicitor the signed copy power of attorney document.
  6. The client should be instructed promptly to return the hard copy signed copy to the solicitor: see below.

The interview of the granter can take place by way of video conference between the solicitor and their client. This may be Skype, Facetime or other video conferencing means. While it is not essential that a power of attorney document is witnessed, as the document becomes self-proving at the point of registration, it would be prudent that the document is witnessed by someone attending with the client, where possible. The witness, of course, cannot be the attorney or one of the proposed attorneys.

Where it is possible to have a witness attend with the client, the solicitor should involve the witness in the process, as viewed by the solicitor.  

Once the document is signed the client should arrange to return the original, hard copy signed document to the solicitor as soon as possible. A photocopy or scanned copy will not suffice for this purpose, as sections 15(3) and 16(3) of the Act sets out that a continuing and/or welfare power of attorney shall be valid only if it is expressed in a written document which is subscribed by the granter. The solicitor can only register the document once the principal, wet ink copy, is received. The certificate requires to be incorporated into that original document.   It should be signed by the certifier on the same date as execution by the granter and attached to the original document once it is received.

It is essential that the solicitor is able to see the unsigned document prior to proceeding with the interview and subscription, and then to see it as signed. Accordingly, an audio only interview, i.e. by telephone only, would not meet the legislative requirements.

It is a matter of professional judgement for a solicitor asked to certify as to whether these arrangements are appropriate in any individual case; and, if these arrangements are followed, whether the solicitor can thereupon properly certify. This guidance refers only to the practical methodology for signing and certifying at a distance from the granter. It will mostly only be appropriate where the client is an existing client and you are satisfied that the client has capacity, there is no undue influence, and there is no other vitiating factor.

Where a new client wishes to instruct you in a power of attorney matter the same principles apply and solicitors will need to exercise their own judgment as to whether or not it is appropriate to conduct the entire piece of business using video technology. It is not to say that it would not be compliant with the relevant legislation. However, the professional obligations to ascertain relevant capacity, and to ensure that there is no undue influence or other vitiating factor, can prove to be more difficult when no physical meeting takes place. It is for those reasons that caution should be exercised in proceeding in this way for new clients.

Please note that this methodology has been followed, with the knowledge and approval of the Public Guardian, well prior to the current situation, where a power of attorney document has been executed overseas.

Our current Guidance on Continuing and Welfare Power of Attorney and Vulnerable Client Guidance should be referred to and followed as necessary. We would mention that, prior to the current situation, review and updating of both of those Guidance documents was underway and is continuing.

New guidance, published on 1 February 2020, has been developed to improve price transparency for legal services to help consumers in Scotland make better-informed choices. In light of the Coronavirus outbreak, we have made the decision to delay the date on which the guideline will take effect until 1 July 2020. You can find further information on our website.

 

Our Property Law Committee would like to take this opportunity to provide some helpful advice to assist those dealing with property related during this period of uncertainty.

Communication
  • It is important that members speak to their clients about any issues specifically relating to Covid-19 which may impact on the solicitor’s legal and practical ability to settle their transaction.
  • It is also important to plan ahead where possible and enter into early dialogue with solicitors on the other side of transactions.
  • Ensure that clients and colleagues at both your own firm and those on the other side of transactions are aware of any changes to working patterns or contact details as a result of Covid-19.
  • In these uncertain times, it is particularly important, that we treat, colleagues and clients, who may be under additional stress and strain, with due respect and courtesy. 
Adding clauses relating to COVID-19 to missives 

While this would be a matter of negotiation between the respective parties, we would discourage this practice. Anyone considering negotiating such a clause should think very carefully about covering the desired outcome during this time of uncertainty, and the practical issues of applying and enforcing such a clause. Such a clause could create unintended consequences depending on how circumstances change. For instance, a mortgage lender may not renew a mortgage offer for any reason, including redundancy.

Witnessing formal letters

Members may be working from home and this may present challenges such as the availability of others to witness formal letters. Members will be aware that there is no requirement under the Requirements of Writings (Scotland) Act 1995 for missives to be probative. Members holding a Law Society of Scotland Smartcard can also use their qualified electronic signature for this purpose.

Registers of Scotland

We continue to consult with Registers of Scotland on what priorities should be during this time and would refer you to their online update. As above, please note we have issued guidance to enable interim RoS measures for transactions directly affected by the closure of the Applications Record. 

 

Please be aware that a number of coronavirus-related scams have already arisen in the wake of the outbreak. If you suspect a scam, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or the FCA Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768.

The BBC has a report on a number of scams.

The National Crime Agency have also provided information and guidance on how to protect yourself against fraud and scams in the current circumstances.

Specialist accreditation renewals

In response to the current restrictions, all current specialist accreditations due to expire on or before 30 June 2020 will be extended automatically by 12 weeks, without the need for a new application to be submitted. 

 

Family Mediation accreditation renewal applications 

Family Mediator accreditations cannot currently be extended automatically beyond their expiry date. We are in contact with the Lord President’s Office to see if automatic extensions can be permitted. In the meantime family mediators should continue to submit applications for re-accreditation as necessary by email to legaleduc@lawscot.org.uk

If your accreditation is due to expire, but you have been unable to complete all the required training or the required assessments due to Covid-19 restrictions please still submit your renewal application with an explanation. Mediation accreditations can be granted conditional upon completing the missing requirements at a later date.

If you have any queries or are unsure when your accreditation is due to expire please contact Patricia Wilson or Elaine MacGlone.

Best practice for taking instructions and arranging execution in relation to wills when it is not possible to meet with the client

Current restrictions prevent solicitors from meeting their clients face to face. At the same time, they will, as far as possible, wish to maintain access to the legal services needed by the public; and this may be particularly important where a client wishes to make or alter a will. We have put together some best practice notes for taking instructions and arranging execution in relation to wills when it is not possible to meet with the client.

It will rarely be appropriate to delay complete fulfillment of an instruction to have a will prepared and signed and accordingly we have been looking at ways that solicitors are able to discharge their professional obligations. As such, we have produced the following temporary guidance during this time - this will be removed at a future date.

Where instructions have already been taken

a) For clients whose instructions have been given to a solicitor prior to either the solicitor or client having to self-isolate the will can be posted (or emailed as a PDF to avoid alteration) to the client for signing. This is based on the assumption that prior to the period of self-isolation (of either party) the solicitor had the opportunity to assess the client’s capacity and susceptibility to undue influence/circumvention and had no concerns in that regard.

The client can be given directions to complete execution of the will in the normal way if a suitable person is available to witness the client's signature in the client's presence and the normal testing details can be completed. The will can then be returned to the solicitor in the normal way if the client chooses to do so.

b) It may be however that a suitable witness is not available and able to be physically present when the client is in a position to sign the will. It may then be feasible to arrange a video link with the client. If this can be done, the solicitor can witness the client signing each page (taking care that the solicitor is not excluded from being an effective witness, for example by being appointed executor directly or through a trust company)or have someone else on the video call do so. The further opportunity may then be taken to assess the capacity of the client and, using their professional judgment, the solicitor can consider whether any undue influence is being exerted on the client.

The will can then be returned to the solicitor. We consider that the witness, as long as they have seen the client actually sign each page, can on receipt of the signed will, legitimately sign and complete the signing details on receipt of the signed will. We would anticipate that this would be deemed to form one continuous process as required by the legislation. However, as set out in the next paragraph, the key point is that client will have signed a fully valid will.

c) If the isolation of the client is such that no witness is available physically with the client and there are no video facilities available, the client can be told that their signature alone at the end of the will is effective to make a valid will, which can then be returned to the solicitor after signature. If such a will remains in that state until the death of the client, while it will be valid, it will be necessary as part of the Confirmation process to "set up" the will as having been signed by the client, by affidavit evidence as to their signature. For this reason, it will generally be preferable to replace such a will by a formally executed version when the current conditions no longer prevail.

Taking instructions.

d) If written instructions have been received from an existing client, these can be acted upon, but should be subject to confirmation at least by telephone and ultimately ideally by the video link suggested above.

e) If instructions are received from or attempted by a new client, then a meeting between solicitor and clients can take place over video conferencing facilities but there are still requirements on the solicitor to ensure that they are satisfied that the client has capacity and is not being unduly influenced into providing instructions on a will/an amendment to a will. We appreciate that these can be difficult determinations to make however we trust that each solicitor will exercise their own professional judgement when making these decisions. If the solicitor is any doubt they should decline instructions.

f) If the client is completely new to the firm then identification checks can be carried out using a video conferencing facility and by having the client hold up identity documents to allow the solicitor to view them. The solicitor could then take a screenshot of the video conference for their file or, where possible, have the client scan and send in the identity documents that they had shown to the solicitor. For further information on identity checks on clients please see here, under practice updates, Non-face to face identification and verification.

g) Given the need for identity checks, assessments of capacity and/or checks for undue influence to be carried out it is not possible to take instructions solely over the telephone and then send a document to a client for signing. Despite the very real, practical difficulties that the profession face in the current climate we are unable to waive the requirement for these checks to be carried out.

h) In a final possible case, where no possible visual contact at all can be made, what a solicitor can do is limited. However, there is nothing wrong in telling an actual or prospective client that a testator can write out clearly their own will or other testamentary instruction. Solicitors can confirm that subscription alone, while not ideal, will generally create valid testamentary instructions; and may also supply details of what is required for formal validity (that is subscription on each page before a single witness (who need not know the contents of the document) and who should sign on the last page after the testator's signature and to which should be added the date and place of signature and the witness's full name and address.

i) This should not be taken as any kind of general encouragement towards the creation of "homemade" wills, which have generated much difficulty in many cases over the years and of course such a process does nothing to address capacity, undue influence and similar matters. In the present circumstances and for many people however it may be better to give such limited advice to enable wills to be created rather than for prospective testators to have nothing at all in place.

For any solicitor undertaking this type of work we would remind you that there is Vulnerable Client Guidance should be available on our website.

Please note that we have also produced a best practice for those undertaking power of attorney work which can be found on our dedicated COVID19 page under practice updates, power of attorney. This is supplementary to our Guidance on Continuing and Welfare Powers of Attorney.

For guidance on notarial execution, further information can be found here under practice updates, Notary public – execution of document.

Information and support for solicitors

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has some useful advice for both employers and employees in the current challenging circumstances. 

 

We are continuing to monitor official advice and updates from Scottish Government and NHS to ensure that we are acting in accordance with the latest guidance.
As of Wednesday 18 March, our Atria One offices will be closed to visitors. 
Please visit our Contact us page for details of how to keep in touch.
Scottish Legal Aid Board

In response to common concerns raised in relation to COVID-19, SLAB is providing online updates for those affectedAn initial four-point plan for revised arrangements during the crisis was set out on 20 March.

We have written to SLAB asking for the legal aid framework to be amended so that duty solicitors could secure fees in the same way as for the nominated solicitor in ABWOR cases and to allow written mitigation to be included within the scope of current ABWOR. 

The Minister for Community safety has written a letter to the profession with a roundup of actions taken and under consideration regarding legal aid.

Registers of Scotland

For information about RoS's response to the COVID-19 outbreak please see their website. Should you wish to contact Registers with a COVID-19 related query, you can email them at covid19enquiries@ros.gov.uk

As above, please note we have issued guidance to enable interim RoS measures for transactions affected by the closure of the Applications Record. 

Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration
Children’s Hearing Scotland

Like every public service, the children’s hearings system is significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

All SCRA and CHS offices are closed to the public.  Almost all our staff and volunteers including Panel Members are undertaking their roles from home to maintain a service and to ensure that existing legal orders do not lapse. Children’s Hearings Scotland and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration have published a summary of their plans on Friday 27 March.

Parole Board for Scotland

The Parole Board for Scotland is continuing to hold casework meetings, Tribunals and Oral Hearings. These will be conducted remotely by teleconference and/or Skype.

Most staff are now working from home. If you need to contact the Board you can email enquires@paroleboard.scot. If you are unable to email please call on 0131 244 8373 and leave a message and a number.

Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal

Currently all SSDT hearings in March, April and May are cancelled. Some procedural hearings and compensation hearings will be dealt with by the Chairs by telephone and/or on the papers, however, most cases will be sisted and rescheduled in due course. See the SSDT website.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

The SLCC has issued advice for practitioners and firms on service standards and complaints. It has also issued an update stating that while it aims to avoid a significant overall effect on complaint resolution times, deadlines for complainers and lawyers may need to be extended. 

COPFS

Lord Advocate's guidance on liberation was issued on 20 March intended to reduce the number of people held in custody and provide clarification around other court, Crown and police activity during the outbreak.

Scottish Police Service

Solicitors have been encouraged to sign up to remote access facilities with the Scottish Prison Service.

Revenue Scotland

Revenue Scotland has changed how it delivers its services in order to protect the health and wellbeing of its staff and to provide on-going support for its service users. The Scottish Electronic Tax System (SETS) continues to operate as normal, but Revenue Scotland has issued information on some of the changes that agents and taxpayers should be aware of.

These are two separate categories – essential business is not necessarily carried out by a key worker in all cases.

 Key workers

The Scottish Government has published a definition of key workers to be used as a guide for councils to implement at a local level. As there are 32 different councils in Scotland with different local priorities, there will be a slight difference in who is deemed a key worker in each regional area. It is expected that each local authority will publish its list of key workers by the end of the week commencing Monday 23 March.

The broad definition laid out by the Scottish Government highlights key workers as those “in posts which ensure that essential services can be delivered and cover tasks within the local community which support the vulnerable and aid community resilience”. This is then further divided into three categories:

  • Category 1 – Health and Care workers directly supporting COVID response, and associated staff; Health and Care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; Energy suppliers (small numbers identified as top priority already); staff providing childcare/learning for other category 1 staff
  • Category 2 – All other Health and Care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (e.g. Fire, Police, Prisons, Social Workers, etc), as well as those supporting our Critical National Infrastructure, without whom serious damage to the welfare of the people of Scotland could be caused
  • Category 3 – All workers (private, public or third sector) without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland (but where the response to COVID-19, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running, would not be severely compromised)
Critical childcare and learning provision

The Scottish Government has asked local authorities to make provision for children of key workers in their areas to ensure that their parents can continue to work. Local authorities have been asked to take the above definition as a guide and prioritise critical childcare and learning for key workers accordingly.

The local authority support is for those who have no alternative arrangements. The Scottish government guidance says that if one parent is a key worker and the other is not, the non-key worker should normally be expected to provide childcare.

To find out whether you are eligible to apply, please contact your local authority. All local authority contact details can be found on COSLA's website.

Further information about key workers can be found on the Scottish Government's website.

Essential business

Those businesses that have not been specifically required to close have been asked only to continue operating if their business is essential. The Scottish Government has not provided a definition or list of what they deem essential business. It has asked employers to make the judgement themselves, taking into consideration the following:

  • is what you do essential or material to the effort against the virus or to the wellbeing of society?
  • if so, can your staff work from home?
  • if not, can you practice safe social distancing and comply with ALL other standard health and safety requirements?

If the answer to none of the above questions is yes, the advice on a precautionary basis is to close.

The guidance implores businesses to be responsible and focuses on reducing travel and social distancing. If there is scope for a business to change the way it operates to comply with these guidelines without having to close, this is recommended.

For full details, please visit the Scottish Government's website

We know this will be a very challenging time for many.

There are a number of resources highlighted in Lawscot Wellbeingour dedicated online resource that provides help and guidance for members and employers, which may be helpful for you, your colleagues and families. We work in collaboration with NHS Scotland, LawCare, SeeMe, SAMH and other mental health charities to:

  • Equip our members with information and signposting to help manage emotional wellbeing
  • Support our members and others employed in the Scottish legal sector who may be experiencing difficulties to access support services and advice
  • Support colleagues and people managers help those in difficulty or crisis
  • Guide members who are concerned about their client’s emotional wellbeing
  • Challenge the stigma around emotional wellbeing and champion best practice

Read more about looking after your wellbeing during the Coronavirus outbreak in the dedicated section on our website, including our homeworking hacks, and join the conversation via our social media channels.

Anyone with concerns about potential signs of COVID-19 or who recently travelled to one of the affected countries should follow the procedure set out by the Scottish Government and NHS guidance

NHS posters on correct handwashing procedures are available to download and print.

HMRC has designed a temporary, emergency set of processes which will allow it to continue dealing with Stamp Duty for the duration of this emergency period. Those emergency processes will allow customers and their advisers to email HMRC documents for stamping, which will be dealt with electronically rather than by applying a physical stamp.  Where appropriate, the replacement process will provide assurances that HMRC won’t levy penalties on company registrars who go ahead and register changes in title; penalties also will not be levied on customers who subsequently send in physical documents for stamping once the crisis period has ended. HMRC has asked that any payments be made electronically.

HMRC have provided updates on the following

Business support information

Scottish Government
The Scottish Government announced a new funding package (18 March) of £2.2 billion for businesses. Among the elements of the support package of particular relevance to the legal community are:

  • £10,000 grants for SMEs in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme or Rural Relief – advice at this stage is to contact your local authority for information on how to apply
  • 1.6% relief for all properties, effectively freezing the poundage rate
  • Pressing for further measures including tax ‘holidays’, PAYE breaks and encouraging rates referrals, with further information to follow
  • An emergency meeting of the Financial Services Advisory Board will be convened to discuss how the costs of extending financial support will be shared by the banking sector

Further information is provided and updated regularly at FindBusinessSupport.gov.scot.

The Scottish Government has also produced a reference page with details of a wide range of available funding sources.  

UK Government
The UK Government budget (11 March) included announcements on a package of business support measures to support businesses and individuals affected by COVID-19, including additional funding and changes to Statutory Sick Pay.

On 17 March a package of business support measures, largely covering businesses in England, was announced by the Chancellor. The Scottish Government subsequently passed all consequentials on to Scottish businesses and mirrored the provisions as set out above.

On 20 March, the UK announced a further raft of measures, including:

  • A Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, to which any employer will be able to apply for a contribution of up to 80% of a worker's wage up to £2,500 per month, backdated to the start of March
  • VAT bills until the end of June will be deferred to the end of the tax year  
  • Income tax payments due in July 2020 under Self Assessment to be deferred to January 2021
  • An extension of the interest-free period for Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme up to twelve months
  • A new lending facility for large firms to be made available shortly via the Bank of England to aid liquidity

Further information on the UK Government business support packages can be found at Coronavirus Business Support and via further guidance issued for businesses on 23 March.

On 26 March the Chancellor announced a support package for the self-employed, including 'members of partnerships'

  • This includes a direct cash grant of 80% of average profits over the past three years will be available up to £2,500 per month.
  • The scheme will be open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
  • To qualify, more than half of their income in these periods must come from self-employment.
  • Those who qualify are currently advised not to contact HMRC at this stage - HMRC is to identify eligible taxpayers and contact them directly with guidance on how to apply.
  • The first payouts from this scheme are anticipated to take place in June
  • As per the previous week's announcement, self employed people may also benefit from VAT bills until the end of June being deferred to the end of the tax year; the deferral of income tax payments due in July 2020 under Self Assessment to January 2021; and business continuity loans.
  • Self-employed people may also be able to apply for Universal Credit.

You can read more about the support from the Law Society and its partners on our dedicated business support section on our website.

It includes an employment law Q&A, an electronic signature guide, practical financial measures to introduce and information on cashroom support.

Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Enterprise has collated information on available support to help businesses manage the impact of COVID-19. A further update on 21 March provided information for businesses trading internationally and a business disruption checklist.

HMRC Helpline
HMRC has a set up a phone helpline to offer practical help and advice for businesses and self-employed people who are concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus COVID-19. Contact the HMRC Helpline at 0800 0159 559

The Bank of England

A market notice by HM Treasury and the Bank of England was issued on 18 March providing information on how the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) will operate.

A joint statement was issued by UK banks and the Bank of England on Covid-19 on 20 March, advising that banks are 'rapidly getting systems in place' to offer support. Further information has also been published on the Covid Corporate Financing Facility, including a detailed Q&A. Businesses can discuss eligibility by contacting CCFFeligibleissuers@bankofengland.gsi.gov.uk

Banks

Scottish Ministers have advised any organisation of any size to contact their banks at the earliest opportunity to discuss any concerns about cashflow, whether imminent or on the horizon. Assurances have been made that banks will view requests to help otherwise sustainable businesses to continue to operate in the short- to mid-term sympathetically. This of course extends to the legal community.

A number of banks have set up support services for business affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. You can find out more using the links below or contact your own bank directly.
Barclays
Lloyds Banking Group
RBS

Insurers

The Association of British Insurers has produced a Q&A on business insurance and the impact of the outbreak.

Clio emergency relief fund

One of our member benefit companies, Clio, has set up an emergency relief fund of US$1m for legal firms affected by the current crisis. This global fund is available for Scottish firms and solicitors and is not limited to current Clio clients.

The Scottish Business Resilience Centre

The Scottish Business Resilience Centre has issued a number of updates on business resilience during the outbreak.

Trainees and students

We have received a number of queries about the remote supervision of trainee solicitors and the ability of trainees to get the continued training, experience, and exposure while remote working is required.

Each legal business is different so there is no one size fits all approach. We note that many organisations will be reacting to events quickly and that communication about what is working/what isn’t working is vital. We would recommend that training managers and supervising solicitors use their professional judgement to decide what works for them, but this might include:

  • daily calls
  • regular email check-in throughout the day
  • review of work by more than one person if possible (with feedback attached)
  • making yourselves approachable virtually and by phone as a supervisor to be asked questions

PQPRs can be done either over the phone or via video-conferencing. These can then be uploaded as normal to the Society’s portal.

The requirement to work from home for an extended period should not impact the ability of a trainee to reach the standard of the Qualifying Solicitor and qualify in due course. 

We strongly advise all legal employers to follow UK and Scottish Government guidance and support home working wherever possible.

 

Can training units utilise the UK Government’s Corona Virus Job Retention Scheme for trainees?

We have had a number of queries relating to the potential temporary suspension of training contracts. In the normal course of events the answer is no. Traineeships ought to be continuous over a period of two years (or equivalent if part-time).

However we believe that the UK Government’s recent announcement regarding the Corona Virus Job Retention scheme may make this possible assuming that trainee solicitors meet the criteria for reimbursement set out by UK Government. Both sets of Admission as a Solicitor (Scotland) Regulations (2011 and 2019) allow for trainees to be absent for a period of no greater than six months in the aggregate. Whilst this has in the past been used for maternity leave or long-term sick leave we believe that furlough – supported by the CJRS – could be viewed in the same way. We would encourage training units considering utilising these provisions to monitor the UK Government’s website as it is likely there will be updated guidance about how this scheme can be accessed, for what types of employee and what changes need to be made to employee contracts.

We leave it to the professional judgement of training managers to decide whether or not – at the end of the training contract – the trainee has met the PEAT 2 Outcomes and is a fit and proper person and whether or not the traineeship can be discharged after the usual 24 months or needs the training contract to be extended.

What about sitting in requirements for early admission?

We are in contact with the Lord President’s Office about how trainee solicitors can comply with sitting-in requirements during the limitations on court work. We are exploring options for virtual sitting in if at all possible. More information on access to courts can be found on the Scottish Courts & Tribunal Service website. We hope to publish updated information by the end of March 2020.

In the meantime we would urge members to heed public health advice and the Society’s guidance above when considering sending trainees to court to sit in and consider the latest advice regarding attendance at court at this time (see above) particularly exercising your judgement on the number of practitioners needing to attend and keep that to essential only.

Can I reduce my trainee’s hours?

Yes. This is competent under the training contract assuming that the contract remains compliant with the Society’s policies on trainee remuneration (i.e. trainees are required to be paid at or above the living wage outside of London as set by the Living Wage Foundation. The same is true of any furloughed trainees).

Trainees can and do work part-time and can move to a part-time status during their training contract. Please contact the Society if you are considering this provision as we can assist you to work out how much extra time the trainee solicitor will require to undertake

Can a trainee be made redundant?

We have a policy on the termination of training contracts for the reason of redundancy based on QC opinion. The policy statement is clear that trainees cannot be made redundant for the reason of redundancy and other avenues should be considered prior to redundancy. The only organisation who can terminate a training contract is the Law Society of Scotland.

We understand that the current situation may lead to less work for trainee solicitors to undertake. Organisations may wish to consider utilising funding via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (see above).

Training units are encouraged to read the policy statement and consider all other options prior to redundancy. If having done so they wish to make a trainee solicitor redundant they require to make a submission to the Admissions Sub-Committee of the Law Society of Scotland.

If you have any queries  please email us at legaleduc@lawscot.org.uk

 

The Admissions Sub-Committee has considered TCPD requirements for those qualifying before end of June 2020. The Sub-Committee agreed that a general reduction in the amount of TCPD undertaken by those qualifying before June 30 was a prudent and proportionate regulatory decision.

All those who are due to qualify prior to June 30 are now required to complete 48 hours of TCPD of which a minimum of 32 must be from an authorised provider and a maximum of 16 from a non-authorised provider. The Ethics course must be completed in full.

Trainees who are qualifying before 30 June and who have already undertaken more than 48 hours of TCPD are deemed to have met the TCPD requirements.

Any trainees who are due to qualify before 30 June and who have not met the reduced requirements and, but for the shortfall in TCPD would be in a position to discharge their traineeship, should – at the point of discharging their training contract – give the Society an undertaking, in a form to be prescribed, that they would complete the remaining hours of TCPD up to a total of 48 hours with the appropriate minimum of 32 hours from an authorised provider by the end of the practice year.

The Committee is keeping a watching brief in this area and will revisit this matter to give clarity to trainees qualifying post-June 30 should these exceptional circumstances continue.

We have had confirmation from the Lord President’s Office that the Lord President has no objections whilst the normal court process is interrupted due to the pandemic, for sitting in on video (or indeed) telephone hearings to count for sitting in purposes provides it meets all other existing criteria in the Regulations for such hearings to be counted.

More information on access to courts can be found on the Scottish Courts & Tribunal Service website

In the meantime we would urge members to heed public health advice and the Society’s guidance above when considering sending trainees to court to sit in and consider the latest advice regarding attendance at court at this time (see above) particularly exercising your judgement on the number of practitioners needing to attend and keep that to essential only.

We are aware that LLB and Diploma students may have questions and concerns about the potential effect on the traineeship job market as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.

We are currently liaising with firms and will continue to do so to get an understanding of trainee recruitment in light of Covid-19. At this stage, it is too early to make any detailed analysis. We will continue to update you as and when we have more information, but please be assured that we are doing our utmost to monitor relevant guidance and information. If you are in the fortunate position of already having a traineeship offer in place, we would recommend that you contact your firm or organisation directly if you have any concerns.

If you are a final year student, you will likely be considering, or in the process of applying to the Diploma. This is an important decision for all students as it is the indicator of whether you intend to qualify as a solicitor in Scotland or take a different career path. The Diploma, unlike the LLB, has a validity period of five years from the date it is awarded and you should bear this in mind when applying. This validity period, which was increased on 1 November 2019, should allow students a degree of flexibility in securing a traineeship within the set timeframe. For more information on the Diploma and its validity, please visit our website. You can also find our updated Diploma Guidance note.

Please keep a look out for updates throughout the application process on our website and on social media. If you are a Law Society Student Associate, you will also be kept updated in our regular news bulletin.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the Diploma, please contact your university and chosen diploma provider or get in touch with Darren Kerr at the Society. You can also sign up to be a Student Associate on our website.

We appreciate that you will have concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on your your university study and assessment.

Your university will remain your key source of information and direction in terms of your study and assessment arrangements however we are in correspondence with each of your programme providers regarding continued study and assessment during this period. 

All LLB students who wish to progress to the next stages of professional legal education following the LLB require to demonstrate that they have achieved all of the Foundation Programme Outcomes. Whilst many providers of the accredited LLB do use examinations to assess whether individuals have met the outcomes, there is no requirement from the Society to use examinations, online or otherwise, as other forms of assessment are available. We do note that many LLB providers choose to examine students in 1st and 2nd year although this is not mandated by the Society. We also cannot mandate that a provider assesses achievements of outcomes in a different format or at a different time.

Over the last few weeks we have contacted accredited providers of both the LLB and the DPLP to discuss how they will react to the Covid-19 pandemic. LLB providers have advised that they intend to use online assessments which we believe could be a sensible and proportionate solution.  We also note that some students have raised issues regarding proposed online exams during this period. We have contacted the universities to assure them they have the option to propose assessment of the outcomes in different ways not already advised or at a different time to that indicated during their accreditation processes and proposed programme. Any such changes will be dealt with in a proportionate and pragmatic manner. 

If you have a particular issue with the assessment currently proposed by your LLB provider please contact them to discuss this. We understand that providers are considering the general and individual issues that may arise from assessment during the pandemic and are working hard to mitigate them.

Universities providing the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice are advising all final-year LLB students to submit their completed Diploma applications by email, rather than submitting a paper application.

Students should complete their Diploma application as a Word document and send it by email to their respective university. A physical, or “wet”, signature will not be required in order to complete the application process. Students should also still apply online to their preferred Diploma provider.

Digital versions of application forms can be found on all Diploma providers’ websites. Students applying to Strathclyde University should apply directly online as usual.

For further information, students can contact the Diploma providers at the following addresses:

Students should note that since November 2019, Diplomas are valid for five years (from 1 January the year after its award). See our website for more information: Diploma validity

Adopting alternative ways of working

In light of the government recommendations to minimise social contact you may require some or all of your team to work remotely at home.

Remote meetings reduce the risk of spread on infection for attendees and reduce the need to travel, particularly for those using public transport.

  • It may be feasible to carry out a client meeting by telephone rather than in person
  • It may be feasible to carry out larger meetings by conference call or video-conferencing

Remote working

  • Colleagues who can work remotely should be encouraged to work at home
  • Contact case management providers about your options to increase usage, provide additional licenses or discuss the provision of remote support and training for staff
  • Consider the security risks associated with remote working and ensure you have cyber security systems in place. You can read more about this here
  • Arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not have access to remote working facilities
  • Speak to your telephone service provider about voicemail access outwith the office

Remaining in the office

If home working is not an option for your firm or you do not have the available technology for all members of staff to work remotely, there are other options to consider for your business. Any decisions on remaining in the office should be considered alongside Government advice issued 23 March for individuals to only leave home for essential work.

  • An option may be to create a small number of teams who can work in the office on rotation to reduce the risk of infection. Each team should have a supervising solicitor or partner to sign mail, write cheques etc. 
  • Consider what is needed to ensure your firm can function with a skeletal staff. For example, ensuring members of each team can assist with day to day running of the office, reception cover, printing, filing, typing, banking and reconciliations, covering court appearances and settlements etc.
  • Each team can work a set number of days/alternate weeks to ensure continuity of service for clients
  • Arrange thorough cleaning between each team swap to manage the risk of infection

It is vital that your colleagues and clients are kept up to date on your response to the current COVID-19 outbreak. As this is an evolving situation, be prepared to provide regular updates.

  • Ensure your staff team is kept up to date with key decisions
  • Make sure you have out of hours contact details for all colleagues to ensure ease of communication
  • Ensure you also have any necessary emergency contact numbers for colleagues
  • Provide information on any relevant processes for sickness reporting, sick pay, any flexibility in policies given the outbreak
  • Put in place procedures in case someone in the workplace shows symptoms of the virus. ACAS has some useful advice.
  • This is a worrying time for many and you may wish to find out more about support available via Lawscot Wellbeing, our dedicated online resource that provides help and guidance for members and employers. 

Ensure you inform your clients of any changes you are making for example, if you are moving your team to remote working.

A clear notification on your website, by email/letter and on social media will help ensure existing clients and other potential clients are aware you are open for business.

Ensure that all contact details are up to date and easily accessible, for example via your website.

Replace face to face meetings with telephone, video and skype calls with clients.

Low-cost measures can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect colleagues, clients and families where the decision is taken for offices to remain open.

  • Work with onsite cleaning teams to make sure surfaces (desks and tables) and objects (telephones and keyboards) are regularly wiped with disinfectant.
  • Place NHS guidance signs around your the building. NHS posters on correct handwashing procedures  are available to download and print.
  • Provide anti-microbial wipes in toilets and communal areas
  • Disinfect all door handles throughout the building
  • Provide hand sanitizer and tissues in communal areas
  • Avoid sharing pens with clients – you may wish to have a stock of disposable pens or encourage clients to bring their own pen for signing documents

Contact us

As a result of the current circumstances, most of the Law Society team is working remotely. We have updated our contact details to make sure you can keep in touch.