Most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is more than 40 years old. It is increasingly out of date and unfit for purpose. While some reforms were brought in 2007 and 2010, the whole framework can be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory. New legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive.
A new Bill on reforming regulation
A new Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 20 April 2023.
Read more below about the steps towards reform since the publication of our initial Case for Change paper in 2016 and further updates as the Bill progresses.
An independent review of the regulation of legal services was announced in April 2017. Its purpose was to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling. Esther Roberton led the review and published her report ‘Fit for the Future - Report of the Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland on 23 October 2018.
The report made 40 recommendations, some of which reflect those we made to the Scottish Government and in response to the review's call for evidence in early 2018, such as restricting use of the term 'lawyer', regulation at entity level and the need for flexible, proportionate regulation. While we support several of the report's recommendations, we are strongly opposed to the principal recommendation for a new, single regulatory body. You can read more in our news release commenting on the report.
Scottish Government consultation
Consultation launch 2021
On 1 October 2021, the Scottish Government launched its Legal Services Regulation Reform in Scotland consultation setting out three different regulatory models.
In our response to the Scottish Government consultation on legal services regulation reform we have strongly rejected the option of a new single regulator. While we believe there is an urgent need for change to improve aspects of the current regulatory system, we already have strong checks and balances within the existing structure of co-regulation which protect the public interest. We also highlighted the key risks presented by options one and two in the consultation, including the threat to the rule of law and independence of the legal profession, and the risk of increased costs to solicitors and their clients. We believe an 'option three plus' would address the key failings in the current regulatory system, particularly around the current complaints system which is cumbersome, complex and costs too much, while retaining those aspects which have proven to work well.
Post-consultation proposals 2022
The Scottish Government published its plans to reform and modernise legal services regulation on 22 December 2022 in response to its earlier consultation in 2021.
In its response, the government has set out its aim to implement a modern, forward-looking model for legal services regulation, which will build on the existing framework. Proposals for the revised regulatory framework include:
- Retaining the overarching role of the Lord President and the Court of Session, protecting the independence of the legal profession.
- Extending legal professional title regulation beyond the current position which protects the title ‘Solicitor’, to protect the use of the term ‘Lawyer’ and ‘member of the Faculty of Advocates’. This will aim to provide greater consumer protection and address concerns that unqualified individuals or individuals struck off from the legal profession can currently use such terms to describe themselves.
- Allowing the legal complaints system to operate in a more flexible way to benefit consumers and legal professionals. This will aim to address concerns that the legislation underpinning the legal complaints system is too restrictive and unable to act in a proportionate and risk-based way, adding undue cost and time to the process for both consumers and legal professionals.
- Ensuring there is proportionate, risk-based oversight of all legal services, providing public interest-focused centred safeguards.
Our news statement is available to read on our website.
Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill introduced
A new Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 20 April 2023 which updates the regulation of legal services in Scotland.
The Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill introduced by the Scottish Government will see the Law Society continue as the regulator of Scottish solicitors, with additional powers to act to protect the public interest. Changes are also proposed to the complaints system to make it simpler and quicker.
However, the Bill also includes the ability for Scottish Ministers to intervene and direct regulators which we believe are deeply alarming and risk seriously undermining the independence of the legal regulation from the state. You can read our statement from 20 April 2023.
The Scottish Parliament call for views on the Bill is open until Wednesday, 9 August 2023.
The Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 20 April 2023.
This Bill updates the regulation of legal services in Scotland.
Part 1 sets out the overarching regulatory framework.
Part 2 relates to the regulation of businesses providing legal services
Part 3 covers complaints about legal services
Part 4 relates to other changes which include a new offence of using the title 'lawyer' when a person is not eligible to do so or pretending to be a regulated legal services provider, and making it simpler for third sector organisations to provide legal services. This section also includes new powers for Scottish Ministers to intervene.
Read our news release on publication of the Bill
The Scottish Government published its plans to reform and modernise legal services regulation on 22 December 2022.
You can read our news statement in response to the government's proposals on our website.
The Scottish Government published its analysis of responses to its recent consultation on reforming the regulation of legal services on 8 July 2022.
The report, Legal Services Regulation Reform in Scotland: Consultation Analysis, and the published responses are available to read on the government's website.
You can read our news release in response to publication of the report.
The Scottish Government made its response to the report on the legal services review on 25 June 2019 - you can read the response on the government's website.
The Competition and Markets Authority also submitted a response on 17 June 2019.
The Law Society's Council submitted a response to the Scottish Government in December 2018. You can read the President's letter to the Minister for Community Safety and additional documents on the legal services review recommendations and the Law Society's proposed complaints model.
The report on the independent review of legal services in Scotland was published on 23 October 2018. The report is available to read on the Scottish Government's website at Regulation of Legal Services.
The Society's news release on the report is available to read on our website: Proposed reforms of legal services regulation pose unnecessary risk to consumer protections.
An independent review of the regulation of legal services was announced by the then Minister of Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing on 25 April 2017. Its purpose was to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling.
In March 2018, we submitted our response to the review group's call for evidence on the review of legal services:
In January 2018, we submitted proposals for wide-ranging reforms that will allow us to keep pace with global developments within the sector and improve consumer protection. In our paper, we set out a series of recommendations which include expanding consumer protections to currently unregulated areas of legal services, regulating firms operating beyond Scotland and overhauling the legal complaints system, which it says is overly complex, expensive and lacks proper oversight.
The recommendations also include:
- expanding consumer protections to currently unregulated areas of legal services
- better regulation of legal firms as entities in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to better protect consumers
- new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing
- widening the Law Society’s membership to improve standards amongst other legal professionals
- protection of the term ‘lawyer’ to mean those who are legally trained and are regulated
You can read the Society's response to the Competition & Markets Authority's Interim Report on the Legal Services Market
In March 2016 we published a Case for Change paper in response to the review group's call for evidence.
In this detailed prospectus we presented to the Scottish Government. It sets out the need for change in greater detail and includes proposals for:
- better regulation of legal firms (‘entity regulation’) in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to protect consumers
- new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing
- opening up our membership in order to improve standards amongst other legal professionals
- the ability for us to regulate legal work beyond the domestic Scottish jurisdiction in order to provide simpler regulation for cross border firms
- more flexible business models which allow legal firms to adapt to market changes.
In January 2016, we published a detailed set of priorities for the Holyrood elections and the next term of the Scottish Parliament. This included a call for Scotland’s political parties to commit to a modern, fit-for-purpose framework for legal services in Scotland which;
- Maintains the advantages of the current system, including the independence of the legal profession, a robust system of co-regulation involving strong professional bodies and an independent complaints handling organisation and discipline tribunal
- Provides a more agile system of consumer protection and addresses the rise of the unregulated legal services market
- Allows flexible regulation that reflects the rise of alternative business models, cross-border firms and internationalisation of the sector
- Enables the Law Society to respond to the changing needs of its members and to open up associate forms of membership to other legal professionals, including paralegals and legal executives