Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scots to wait three years or more for legal services reform under MacAskill

Title says it all .. most sensible lawyers are quite happy to usher in the new opened legal services market, although the Law Society of Scotland certainly is not, fearing it will signal their demise which has long been hoped for by the majority of the membership.

The only catch - the public will have to wait at least three years before the SNP Government does anything about it, and with Kenny MacAskill as Justice Secretary, the Law Society can surely be guaranteed a few more years of squeezing every penny it can get out of clients at the expense of the profession's bad good reputation.

A new page in three years or more delays ?

The Scotsman reports :

Inside law: Legal advice with your cornflakes

By Michael Howie

IT'S a centuries-old tradition that has ensured Scotland's lawyers have held an elevated and privileged status in society.

But the monopoly the legal profession has over the ownership of law firms has, for some, become more a hindrance than a benefit.

Many of the big corporate firms worry that they are losing out to their rivals south of the Border, who have already swept away restrictions over the market. That means they can now attract more capital from outside the legal industry, allowing them to expand and net bigger contracts.

Now Scotland wants to do the same. Earlier this month, the Law Society of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to break the monopoly solicitors have over the ownership of legal firms in Scotland.

I understand that the Scottish Government will bring forward legislation within three years that will change the legal landscape. A senior government source has told me it is likely that historic proposals will be introduced to parliament in the current term.

But will the ordinary person in the street notice any difference? The answer is a resounding … "probably".

Breaking the monopoly will open the way to competition from supermarkets and banks. That is why it has been dubbed "Tesco Law". People will, theoretically, be able to buy legal advice when they're getting the groceries in.

Already, the AA and the Co-op have moved to establish legal services companies in England, where legislation has been introduced to open up the market, and will be enacted in 2010.

Conveyancing and will-writing are among the legal services that other organisations such as supermarkets will be able to provide.

One legal source tells me practices like solicitors relying on letters to maintain formal contact with clients – which can be a costly business – will be swept away, to be replaced by more practical methods of communication, such as e-mail.

The fear among lawyers is that the market will become too unregulated, with the possibility of conflict of interest and plain bad practice leaving consumers worse off. As one solicitor to whom I spoke put it: "Do people really want to buy legal services when they're getting their cornflakes?"

Maybe not. But one thing's for sure: the legal industry will never be the same again.

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