Restrictions on who can describe themselves as a lawyer would attract public support, the Law Society of Scotland claimed today.
Research carried out for the Society has found a widespread belief that "lawyers" are all qualified and regulated. However, while there are current and longstanding legal restrictions on who can call themselves solicitors or advocates, there is no such restriction on the use of the term "lawyer", with any person able to use that title, whether or not they have any legal education.
The study found that almost nine out of 10 Scottish adults (87%) think there should be restrictions on who can describe themselves as a lawyer. The findings follow on from research in 2016 which highlighted that nearly two-thirds of consumers (63%) did not recognise the difference between a solicitor and a lawyer.
The Society is calling for the term "lawyer" to include only those who have recognised legal qualifications and are regulated, as is the case for solicitors and advocates. It believes the current review of legal services presents an opportunity to fully assess the scope of the unregulated legal sector in Scotland.
Society President Graham Matthews warned that a lack of clarity may mean consumers are unaware that they are seeking advice from an unregulated legal adviser.
He said: "The terms 'solicitor' and 'lawyer' are often used interchangeably, with a public perception that all lawyers are fully qualified and regulated. However, it is not necessary for someone to have any kind of qualification, knowledge or experience in law or to be regulated to be able to call themselves a lawyer – while all solicitors can be referred to as lawyers, not everyone who calls themselves a lawyer is entitled to call themselves a solicitor.
"A Scottish solicitor must complete many years of legal study, gain the necessary qualifications, undertake a two-year traineeship, and professional training every year, and comply with a code of ethics and the Law Society’s rules and guidance, giving the public reassurance and confidence in their professional standards and abilities. We know from research carried out in 2014 that the vast majority of people – at 95% of those surveyed – consider their solicitor to be trustworthy."
He added: "It is important that everyone who needs legal advice finds the right professional for their particular circumstances safe in the knowledge that there are public protections in place in the unfortunate event of anything going wrong. While substantially less than 1% of solicitors’ work results in any kind of complaint, consumers are assured that there are clear processes in place to be able to seek redress if necessary.
"We have an opportunity to find out just how widespread the unregulated legal sector is in Scotland while the legal services review is ongoing. We will be urging the independent review to recommend reforms to make sure that all those who seek legal advice are afforded proper protections."
The Society pointed out that the Find a Solicitor search tool on its website allows people to search by area of law or location and to verify the status of their solicitor.