Thursday, May 29, 2008

Law Society & vested interests lament passing of lawyers monopoly on access to justice - in three years ?

No sense in crying about it, but certainly the Law Society will have a few 'last stabs' at keeping the monopoly legal services market closed for another two or three years just for good measure.

That's another four billion pounds please Mr Kenny MacAskill .. who seems less & less interested in the public interest these days, who surely must be getting that 'taken for a ride' feeling from the lack of action on the Justice Secretary's part ...

The Scotsman reports :

The end of lawyers or a super new market?

Part two of our debate over the future of the Scottish legal profession


TECHNOLOGICAL revolutions are shaping the lawyer of the future, requiring a new breed of professional trained to get to grips with cutting-edge developments. These include: Second Life (how do you convey real estate in cyberspace?), nanotechnology (are behaviour-enhancing micro-implants cheating?), synthetic biology (who will own new life forms built from biological scratch?) and mobile communications technologies (should our phones be used to spy on us?). These advances change the ways we live and interact with each other, and so require changes in the rules that govern these interactions.

New laws and new lawyers also require new law degrees. Edinburgh University is ahead of the game with its unique distance-learning Masters degrees in law and new technologies, offered via the internet and through its research centre, Script. The clear message for the future is that law, lawyers and the legal profession itself will need to evolve rapidly to keep pace with a social world that is increasingly typified by change driven by new and emerging technologies.


THERE is likely to be a growing stratification of the way in which legal services are provided to individuals. At the top end – serving no more than 10 per cent of the Scottish population who continue to become increasingly affluent – there will be an increasing demand for personalised, competent and specialised advice from firms that provide relationship-based services. There is a particular opportunity for these services to be provided by multidisciplinary firms.

At the next level, some businesses will develop online commoditised services made available through a range of national brands. These will cover residential conveyancing transactions and lending, simple wills, straightforward probate work and some personal injury claims. Our "Google generation" is well accustomed to the call-centre, transaction-based approach and there are big opportunities for those willing to invest in the necessary technology and processes. The rise in the commoditisation of these bread-and-butter services will represent a real threat to the operation of many traditional high-street solicitors.


THERE is no doubt that the legal market in Scotland is changing and will continue to do so over the next five years. The direction and pace of this change will be dictated by the evolving needs of clients, as much as any structural reforms within the industry.

Clients coming to terms with globalisation increasingly look for lawyers who can support them in complex international deals, so successful Scottish firms will have to be capable of competing against the best in any national market. Establishing strong global links will become even more crucial in the battle to attract and retain the best clients and staff.

The Law Society's proposals for alternative business structures are another important issue. The debate must consider our need to compete with large English commercial law firms. Moves to open up funding or ownership of law firms can only exist within a sensible regulatory regime, retaining the professionalism and quality clients expect.


TO SURVIVE, the Scottish high-street solicitor will need to adapt. The proposed alternative structures, creating new entrants in the sector will increase competition. The public will continue to want assurance that legal issues are protected by client confidentiality and that no possible risk of a conflict of interest between their solicitor and another party exists. Independence of the solicitor will be paramount.

There will be less reliance on the nine-to-five availability of solicitors and more on the 24/7 availability of online information. This could allow clients to obtain updates wherever and whenever they need it and could benefit high street practices, particularly those in rural areas. The profile of the profession will continue to change as more women and hopefully more minority groups enter the law, thus reassuring the public that it is truly a profession that is representative of the society it serves.


THE provision of affordable housing is one of the major challenges facing Scottish society, The Scottish Government is looking to housing providers to increase housing supply so as to create greater choice and sustainable mixed communities within a context of better value for public expenditure. A key consequence of both higher house prices and the "credit crunch" is the exponential increase in the number of people – usually first-time buyers – who lack the resources to buy a house on the open market but do not qualify for social housing. One of the tasks of the Scottish Government in the next five years will be to ensure that the law facilitates progress. It is to be hoped that Holyrood will legislate to abolish the "securities rule" element of the "20-year rule" that currently impedes development. Matters could be further helped by an examination of consumer credit legislation.


THE two main drivers of environmental law in the next five years will be energy and waste. With politicians convinced of man-made global warming we can expect a plethora of low-carbon initiatives designed to wean us off fossil fuels.

Hand-in-hand with sensible energy use is waste avoidance and reuse. We still rely on the technological dead-end that is landfill. The smart money is moving into high-tech incineration, with combustion heat being used to create heating or electricity. These changes have already been legislated for, but new waste laws will mean that disposal options like landfill will only be for the most intractable industrial wastes. Along with waste laws, the new EU chemicals legislation is a major challenge and potentially affects every manufacturer (of anything – not just chemicals). Compliance costs will be massive, making it important to know when the law applies to you and when it doesn't.


THE renewables sector is buoyant, largely thanks to challenging targets from the UK and Scottish governments. In addition, the proposed EU renewables directive will apply mandatory targets across the EU. For renewables developers and the government there is an increasing need to get consents issued and megawatts built as efficiently as possible. The construction needed is immense, but there are challenges over and above the technical skills needed to develop major renewables infrastructure.

Developers cannot connect to the grid without permission from National Grid and it is the legal and regulatory barriers to appropriate grid capacity that are a major block to development of infrastructure in the UK. The economic downturn emphasises the need for positive leadership at a senior government level, and within the regulator Ofgem, to remove unnecessary red tape and allow developers to deliver on government targets.


HOW legal aid will look in five years time will depend on what happens over the next 18 months. On the criminal side, changes to summary justice will raise challenges for the profession and result in altered business models to meet the challenges of a faster, more efficient justice system.

In solemn cases, while recent changes have resulted in increased remuneration, the starting position was so outdated that we will continue to persuade the Government that rates need to be regularly reassessed. It might also be time to open up a debate on universal rights of audience.

In civil legal aid, despite the announcement of a rise in funding, the position is acute. In some parts of the country, the Government has had to employ advisors where solicitors could not sustain a business unit. Lord Gill's review may result in changes to civil justice; however, we cannot do nothing in the short or medium term.


LAST week I was involved in paying off the mortgage on a client's property. I phoned the bank to find out how to word the discharge document. This was a mistake. I had to fight through endless digitised options and made 13 phone calls before sorting things out. Here's my worry about so-called "Tesco law": if it had been the client himself who had had to make the same enquiry he would have got nowhere. Now suppose it was the bank itself that operated his solicitor's firm. If he had made enquiry out of the blue he would have hit the same problems with his solicitor, whose files would have been absorbed into the monolithic maw of the bank. Only this time he would have had no one to sort it out for him. His solicitor would now be part of the problem. The impossibility of getting sensible treatment to telephone enquiries by large institutions is one of the great frustrations of our age. Tesco Law will make this worse. But like global warming, no one will care about it until it is too late.


The End of Lawyers seems like a provocative title, designed to boost Richard Susskind's book sales. But does he have a point?

No-one would suggest that, in the future, there won't be rules to be interpreted. People will still need legal advice, but will they need it from lawyers? When paralegals and the advice sector currently play a big role in providing legal services, the answer, already, is no. With the advent of alternative business structures, the market is likely to open up to include others who can help run legal services. All this will take time. Now that the Law Society's proposals have been ratified, the Scottish Government will need to come up with a blueprint, consult and get legislation through parliament. The profession will need some time to adapt to the changes before they can implement them. So five years from now, little may have changed, but the ground will certainly be shifting under firms that still cling to the traditional way of working

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