Monday, May 12, 2008

Law Society of Scotland's fairy tale view of itself seen as obstacle to change & reform

More from the Law Society of Scotland this week, who are rather desperate to appear to be doing something positive for the legal profession and the rest of the country ... sadly however .. failing to achieve as is typical ..

Read on for a typical piece of the unbelievable from Drumsheugh Gardens ...

The Scotsman reports :

Significant step for Law Society

By Jennifer Veitch

HOW time flies for the legal profession in Scotland. Can it be a year since Which? made their 'super-complaint' to the OFT about our legal services market?

Yet here we are, 12 uncertain months later, and the full implications of the consumer group's move are only just beginning to take effect – but what an effect that might be.

In its new policy paper on alternative business structures (ABS), the Law Society has embraced the principle of allowing solicitors to explore new working models.

Aside from the inevitable caveat that appropriate regulation needs to be in place to deal with issues such as independence and conflicts of interest, the society's council says it wants to set out a timetable for "early and energetic progress" towards the framework for ABS.

Further, it has encouraged the Scottish Government to "amend or repeal" legislation that "impedes or prevents" ABS "as soon as possible." So, barring some sort of grassroots revolt at next week's AGM, it looks like some form of alternative structure will become reality.

The timescale could be relatively swift if the regulation, which is covered in some detail in the policy paper, was all that was required to be addressed. But there is a much bigger problem facing the profession that will be much more difficult to resolve.

As the society's council acknowledges, one of the core themes to emerge from its consultation on ABS earlier this year was that any new structures should not "negatively affect" access to justice. The policy paper's references to the current make-up of the profession in Scotland indicate why it should be of such concern. While large and medium-sized firms have been arguing for a level playing field with the post-Clementi English marketplace, the vast majority of Scottish lawyers do not play in a UK league.

According to the society, there are 1,247 firms in Scotland, of which nearly half are sole practitioners. More than a quarter of the 10,500 solicitors with practising certificates are working in-house and cannot offer direct services to members of the public.

The society's policy paper acknowledges that introducing ABS will affect access to legal services, and it has called on Holyrood to "protect and promote" fair and equal access.

The focus now needs to shift on to how the profession and government can work together, in partnership with the voluntary sector and consumer groups, to ensure that happens in tandem with any regulatory reforms.

While access to justice is a major concern, change to the traditional business model will bring new opportunities, and not just for the big firms. This week's article on the new Community Law Advice Network shows that there are innovative ways of working in the not-for-profit sector.

If one thing has been consistently clear during the debate about ABS it is that change was going to happen. The question for the Law Society was whether that change would be driven by them or foisted upon them.

Those who recall the society's handling of the complaints handling consultation leading up to the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act might have expected it to take a similarly conservative approach to ABS.

This time, by embracing both the reality and the opportunity of change, the society has taken a significant step forward.

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