Options within a Scottish Government consultation on reforming the regulation of Scotland’s legal sector could leave consumers facing higher legal bills.
The Law Society of Scotland, professional body and regulator of over 12,000 Scottish solicitors, is urging major reforms to the way legal services are regulated, but has cautioned against measures which could damage the competitiveness of Scottish law firms and increase the cost of legal advice for consumers.
Submitting its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation Legal services regulation reform in Scotland, the Law Society called for an overhaul of the currently ‘complex and cumbersome’ complaints system as well as strong measures to protect consumers. However, options to set up new and additional regulatory bodies were described as unnecessary and costly.
President of the Law Society of Scotland, Ken Dalling said: “Most of the legislation covering legal regulation is over 40 years old and has failed to keep pace with modern practice. However, some of the options set out by government risk undoing what already works well and has delivered strong public confidence and trust in the solicitor profession.
“The cost of legal services is one of the biggest barriers to people getting the advice they need. Yet the consultation presents an option of creating a brand-new regulatory body, adding substantial costs which consumers would ultimately have to bear. This threatens the competitiveness of the Scottish legal sector, just as we recover from the Covid pandemic, and risks a loss of jobs to other parts of the UK. There is simply no evidence to justify moving forward with such a bureaucratic or expensive process.”
Prior to the current consultation, a Scottish Government independent review in 2017 concluded that Scotland is home to a well-educated, well respected legal profession with a high degree of public trust and that there was ‘little evidence of significant wrongdoing in the current model’.
Independent research carried out in 2021 has also highlighted the exceptionally high satisfaction rates of solicitors’ clients, illustrating confidence among the public in the work of the legal profession.
Ken Dalling said: “We are very proud of the trust and satisfaction shown in solicitors’ work. However we need reform to the regulatory system to make it more flexible and more relevant to today’s diverse and technology-driven legal sector.
“The current problems are not due to structures or who regulates. They come from unnecessarily complex processes and outdated procedures which are hard-wired into primary legislation so must, by law, be followed. The system for handling legal complaints in particular, is cumbersome, complex and costs too much, while rigid regulatory processes restrict our ability to step in quickly to protect the public interest.
“We have a key opportunity to focus on the changes which the legal sector needs and the public interest demands by building a consensus and agreeing a package of changes which can be progressed quickly and easily through the Scottish Parliament.”
In its response to the Scottish Government consultation, the Law Society has supported a strongly enhanced model of co-regulation which would address problems within the current regulatory regime, while retaining those aspects which have proven to work well.
It has urged a radical overhaul of the complaints system, which is widely seen as failing consumers and the profession, by moving to a system which is quick, agile and treats all parties fairly.
The solicitors’ professional body has also proposed action to tackle the unregulated legal services market which puts consumers at risk and has said that allowing cross-border regulation would position Scotland as a more attractive jurisdiction in which legal firms can be based and offer the chance to grow inward investment and jobs.
Read our consultation response: Legal Services Regulation Reform