Proposed changes to the regulation of solicitors and other legal professionals risk reducing public protection in Scotland.
The report of a Scottish Government appointed review of legal services regulation, led by Esther Roberton, has been published today (23 October 2018). In her report, Ms Roberton has recommended creating a new single regulatory body and removing the regulatory role of the Law Society of Scotland in regulating Scottish solicitors. She recommends the same for the Faculty of Advocates and Association of Commercial Attorneys.
However, the Law Society has argued that the proposal of a new single regulatory body has been made without any consultation with the legal profession and that it risks weakening public protection and increasing costs for those who pay for legal services.
The Law Society’s regulatory role includes setting and enforcing standards in qualifying as a solicitor, accrediting degrees, anti-money laundering supervision in a world where the profession is a target for cybercrime, inspecting law firms and managing the client protection fund which protects consumers from financial loss through the dishonesty of a solicitor or their staff.
Alison Atack, President of the Law Society of Scotland said: “We strongly oppose the primary recommendation of a new single regulatory body because of the unnecessary risk it places on protecting consumers and higher costs. The Law Society has almost 70 years’ experience of successfully setting and enforcing standards in the solicitor profession. I find it surprising that, following such a long review, Ms Roberton would conclude without any consultation with the profession, that a new regulatory body be set up and that the Law Society be removed from the regulatory process.
“However, I am pleased to see that some of our suggestions to improve the regulation of legal services have been recommended by Ms Roberton in her report. The ideas that we put forward are carefully thought out. Our suggestions include the protection of the term ‘lawyer’, entity regulation and ensuring all legal services are regulated. It is these changes that the Scottish Government should be focusing its attention on and we look forward to engaging with them.”
All regulatory decisions at the Law Society are already taken by committees made up of experienced solicitors and non-solicitors who represent the public interest. The Regulatory Committee was created as a result of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010. It oversees all of the Law Society’s regulatory work and is chaired by a non-solicitor.
Carole Ford, a former head teacher who has led the Law Society's main Regulatory Committee for the last seven years added: “Ms Roberton’s recommendation of a single new regulatory body is disproportionate because there is no evidence of the need for this reform. As she admits in her own report, there is little evidence of significant wrong doing in the current model. She describes the outcome of the current regulatory system in Scotland as being the home to a well-educated, well-respected legal profession with a high degree of public trust, of which she believes we can be very proud. This chimes with my own experience.
“As a non-solicitor myself, I have seen first-hand how protecting the public interest sits at the very heart of the Law Society. It is recognised around the world for its work in ensuring Scottish solicitors are highly trained and well qualified and that consumers are protected when things go wrong. That is why the Law Society of Scotland is best placed to regulate Scottish solicitors.”
The full report ‘Fit for the Future’ Report of the Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland is available on the review website.
The Law Society is a statutory body established in legislation. As the lead regulator of Scottish solicitors, some of the organisation’s regulatory responsibilities include:
- determining the routes to qualification and entry requirement for new solicitors
- setting the professional standards and rules which all solicitors must follow
- proactively inspecting law firms to ensure proper handling of client money
- setting anti-money laundering rules and monitoring compliance
- investigating alleged misconduct against solicitors and pursuing cases to the independent Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal
- setting professional indemnity insurance requirements for law firms, to protect clients from loss through negligence
- administering the Client Protection Fund which ensures, without the use of any taxpayer money, no client suffers financial loss through the dishonesty of a solicitor or their staff
- 100% of the cases taken before the independent Scottish solicitor discipline tribunal (SSDT), follow a Law Society investigation and almost half stem from the proactive actions of the Law Society in finding issues of concern. The remainder stem from consumer complaints brought to the Law Society’s attention.
- Over 130 experienced solicitors and non-solicitors are involved in taking regulatory decisions at the Law Society. That work is overseen by a Regulatory Committee half of whom are experienced solicitors and half lay non-solicitor members. It is, by law, chaired by a non-solicitor who is currently Carole Ford. Most members contribute their time and expertise for free, amounting to over £250,000 of ‘pro bono’ work calculated using normal rates of remuneration in public bodies.
- The independent review of legal services regulation was established by the Scottish Government in 2017. It arose because of a specific request from the Law Society of Scotland to update and modernise the framework of legislation on the regulation of legal services, much of which almost 40 years old.
- In its evidence to the review, the Law Society submitted a detailed set of proposals to improve the regulatory system, including changes to the lengthy and complex processes which all legal complaints must go through and which are set down in primary legislation. You can see the Law Society’s full response to the review and a summary sheet on our website.