A 5% cut in the general levy, and 20% for lawyers in their first three years of practice, has been agreed by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission following responses to its budget proposals for the year from 1 July 2021.
The SLCC originally proposed standstill levies of £400 for solicitors in private practice (but £492 for principals; £200 for those in their first three years; £120 for in-house lawyers; and £189 for advocates), but its budget plans were criticised given that complaint numbers had fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the SLCC rejected some of the comments as misleading, it said it had revised its figures in the light of emerging data on complaints received and projected; projected costs, following changes in the Scottish Government pay policy; increased efficiency and productivity, with the elimination of a case backlog; and its overall financial position, including reserves.
The final budget will be laid before the Scottish Parliament in a month's time, but the proposed reductions would mean fees (on the Journal's calculations) in the region of £468 for principals, £160 for those in their first three years, £380 for other private practice, £114 for in-house lawyers, and £180 for advocates. (The SLCC's release speaks of an "additional reduction" of 20% for new lawyers, but the Journal has been told the figure is simply 20%.)
"This year, the changing external context for the SLCC, like many other organisations, has been significant, and we have had to rapidly amend our projections and plans as the consultation took place", the SLCC stated. "We highlighted this approach in our consultation paper, published in January, noting the likelihood of changes to the budget proposal during the consultation period."
It explained the bigger reduction for new lawyers as a response to "some of the specific challenges we have seen highlighted regarding those early in their careers, and this complements support provided by Scottish Government directed at addressing concerns about lawyers entering the legal services market at this time".
It added: "We continue to refine our final budget, which will be laid before the Scottish Parliament next month, and to take into account some of the detailed comments made on our operating plan."
The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the decision, while calling for a "change in attitude" in the SLCC's control of costs.
President Amanda Millar commented: "Last year, the Law Society delivered an unprecedented £2.2m package of financial support to the profession, including a 20% cut in our core practising certificate fee. We called on the SLCC to follow our lead and to reduce its financial impact on the legal profession. I am pleased the SLCC listened to the Law Society and has now agreed to reduce its budget.
"However, this needs to mark the start of a much needed change in attitude from the SLCC. It cannot be right that it costs more for doing less, given complaints against solicitors are lower than three years ago. This is clearly unacceptable at a time when the legal sector is working so hard to survive the economic fallout of COVID-19."