Tuesday, August 14, 2007

OFT's report on Which? super complaint draws more reaction

A little piece from the Scotsman on further reaction from the professions on the OFT's recommendations to open up legal services in Scotland.

The battle for hearts & minds is hotting up .....

Further reaction to the OFT's report on Which?'s law super-complaint

I WONDER if those who are backing the introduction of "alternative business structures" are being somewhat economical with the reasons for their support.

As far as I can see, the chief promoters within the profession are members of highly successful firms and Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) who, if the periodic legal reviews are anything to go by, are never slow to trumpet their success and the increase in their fee income. Their offices are designed to promote wealth and influence and have the latest technology. These lawyers appear to make good money and have the lifestyle to suit.

Why do they need more money for investment and what sort of investment do they require which they cannot fund from their already impressive performance?

I suspect the real reason to investigate alternative business structures is the bottom has fallen out of the market of a young lawyer being prepared to buy into an existing firm. The ability of an ageing partner to capitalise on the sale of their share in the business is vanishing. Ageing partners are looking for a wider pool of potential purchasers to buy their asset While I have no problem in anyone who owns a share in a business selling his asset, I think a little transparency in the debate would be refreshing.

Graeme McCormick
Conveyancing Direct

THE investigation into the competitive nature of the profession is an inevitable consequence of [Sir David] Clementi and consumer power.

It needs to be said, loud and clear, that the legal profession is a competitive one. That may seem unlikely to some clients, but many will recognise they are free to buy legal services from wherever they want. The number of people entering the profession has been growing and new lawyers compete with established ones.

It also needs to be said that this competitiveness has to be improved and extended. If there is a perception among the public that lawyers "have it sewn up," that has to be dispelled. The Law Society has to recognise this and enable solicitors to complete with lawyers from elsewhere and to compete with non-lawyers in providing services. The mantra of "access to justice," on which the society has depended for years, is an insubstantial crutch.

We should not be rushed into adopting structures which strike at the core of the legal profession: there must not be a wholesale throwing-out of professional standards. Clients go to solicitors not just because they want competent service. They want independence, good professional standards, and they want confidentiality. Critics of the Law Society have to recognise that it has done a good job in sustaining these and the society has to see these as its core role.

There are plenty of structures available to open up law firms to outside capital and involvement. These have to respond to the need to protect the core values of independence and so on. It is right that the Law Society is having a conference on the issues - pity it has to be so long away - and it has to lead, immediately, to business - and client - oriented proposals.

John Elliot
chairman, Lindsays

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