This month's Law Society of Scotland Council member profile: Alberto Costa (England & Wales)
What is your own practice area?
General commercial law, in the practice I started in London. Typically our work is non-contentious business legal services from contracts to employment law, with some commercial litigation. The firm is focusing more on litigation and arbitration but at the moment it’s about 80% general business law for domestic and international clients.
What motivates you to get up on a dreary Monday morning?
Being able to afford things for my daughter! Seriously, running my own business is something I much enjoy. It’s very different from my past experiences in practice and in the Government legal service. Time flies and Monday is much the same as any other day of the week.
How long have you been a member of Council and how did you become involved?
I’m a recent member, having joined in January this year following a by-election. As an avid reader of the Journal I saw the position advertised, and spoke to some colleagues who encouraged me to put my name forward.
In what specific capacities have you served (office bearer, committee or other)?
I hit the ground running. David Cullen was very helpful in explaining what opportunities there are. Being based in London I see my primary role as a proactive facilitator for the large number of solicitors here who want better contact with their regulatory body. I’m now forming a committee of Scottish solicitors here who can meet with senior office bearers such as the Vice President, Bruce Beveridge at biannual meetings in London.
What have been the highlights for you personally?
To me the Council meetings have shown how fortunate Scottish solicitors are in having a single body acting as representative and regulator of the profession, as compared with the position in England where you have both the Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority. I see a real benefit in having a single body led by volunteers from the profession carrying out both functions.
With the SRA, its primary purpose is to protect the public by regulating solicitors and it is managed principally by non-practising lawyers with the result that it understandably distances itself from those it is regulating. With our Scottish Society you have regulated individuals, like me, taking part in the regulatory decision making process which I think brings a common sense approach to regulating the profession, which ultimately benefits the public as well as the profession.
What do you see as the main issues that your members want Council to address at present?
Better communications with my constituents. They have been very positive about the newsletters I have sent out so far. I’ve also helped one or two on an individual basis. I’d like to see regular social events for them and had the idea for a launch event to kick start regular biannual events for Scottish solicitors. I was delighted that the Society, in particular Austin Lafferty and Bruce Beveridge, agreed to have a major event in London, which has resulted in the Society organising an independence debate on 1 November in Westminster.
What do you see as the other main issues that Council has to address at present?
It should look very closely at how it can provide greater benefits to its members to allow them to practise in wider areas across the UK. The legal market is changing in England & Wales, especially London which is a dynamic market in itself. ABS will be a big factor. There is a real task for the Society to ensure that any ABS it regulates, to potentially operate on a UK-wide basis, has the same opportunities as any regulated by the SRA. If it plays its cards right, it could benefit from the changes.
For instance, one area that the Society could assist in giving greater benefits to its members practising in other parts of the UK is the notarial profession. As a Scottish solicitor, I can practise as a notary public in Scotland, but can’t act to notarise anything here in England & Wales, where there is a separate notarial profession. I would like to see that changed, specifically on UK notarial matters, such as the legalisation of documents for use abroad that is done via the FCO (its legalisation office is based in Milton Keynes), which is after all a UK Government department not limited to a particular UK legal system. I see a benefit for the Society in developing this area, so long as it can reach agreement with the English Faculty Office (the regulator for notaries in England & Wales) on UK-wide notarial matters, identical to both Scotland and England.
If you could change only one thing for your members, what would it be?
It goes back to ABS. Scottish solicitors have the opportunity to become dual qualified, and if they choose to practise in England (or in English reserved legal matters), I think they should be able to do so under the oversight of the Law Society of Scotland and not have two regulators involved. There are far more Scottish solicitors that choose to move to England than the other way around and therefore the Society has an opportunity to negotiate changes with its English counterparts which could result in benefits that members will choose to remain regulated by the Scottish Society.
What are your interests outside the law?
Aside from my family, I very much enjoy politics. I was a Conservative candidate in the 2010 General Election.