Despite last year's Office of Fair Trading's recommendations to open up the Scottish Legal Services market to competition, the Law Society of Scotland has maintained a steady policy of pursuing its policy of protecting its monopoly over access to legal services in Scotland.
Last week, in attempts to placate the cries for freedom of choice in legal services, the Law Society released the Alternative Business Structure policy document, deservedly, as it turns out, to much criticism & condemnation by consumer groups and the public alike where it appears that long discussions & consultations with the membership at large have been generally ignored, the Law Society preferring to extend its grip into the murky world of paralegals.
So, over to less public choice and ever more regulatory failures as clients get a weaker, less safe legal service than ever in Scotland.
The Scotsman reports in the following article that Law Society control over paralegals would be good for clients - but the truth is it will be very bad for clients if the history and habits of the Law Society of Scotland are anything to go by ....
By Neil Stevenson
WHAT will becoming a Law Society of Scotland registered paralegal actually mean?
The status is a badge of quality, indicating that the holder has met certain academic standards, has a certain amount of work experience and can carry out work to a prescribed standard.
We must emphasise that the exact arrangements are still under discussion, but having spoken to most of the concerned parties we have a clear idea of how the final proposal may look.
The Law Society is proud that this is a true partnership project, with the society and the Scottish Paralegal Association working closely to ensure that this new scheme brings benefits to everyone involved.
Paralegals who have attained a formal recognition under the scheme will be eligible to apply for entry to the register. A wide range of qualifications are likely to be considered relevant, from HNC/HNDs provided by Scotland’s colleges to provision from respected commercial providers such Central Law Training and Rewards Training.
We are also delighted to have worked with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to redevelop an HNC/HND in legal services, and are now moving to develop professional development awards in a variety of key areas of law. For the first time this will provide a qualifications framework for paralegals.
Paralegals will then need to undertake an assessed year in practice, supervised by a solicitor. Those already with office experience may be able to follow an accelerated route, with the emphasis on ensuring all those becoming registered meet the required standard.
Those achieving registration will be required to complete annual ongoing training and will have to uphold standards laid out in a code of conduct. A complaints process will be put in place, but the emphasis will be on upholding standards through a variety of regulatory approaches.
There is no doubt that paralegals already provide a valuable service within the legal market, but at the moment anyone can call themselves a paralegal. Introducing a registered status will mean that employers can be sure of the standards met by employees. It will also give paralegals the professional recognition they deserve. And clients will benefit from knowing that the paralegal, who they may have more direct contact with than a solicitor, has been assessed properly.
This development also represents continuing change at the Law Society of Scotland. An innovative regulatory approach has been developed to tackle the issue, and state-of-the-art IT will underpin compliance.
This is also a year when the Society’s own governance arrangements are being reviewed and are likely to significantly alter following the move to bring in more experience from outside the profession and streamline our management.
• Neil Stevenson is from the Law Society of Scotland.