Pushing for change
Comments from the Law Society of Scotland on the main points in its annual report for 2016-17, now available online
With the continued transformation of the way legal services are delivered, driven by the needs of clients today alongside technological advances, the Society remained focused in 2016-17 on campaigning on behalf of the modern profession and in the interests of the public and justice, while ensuring that solicitors continue to work to the highest professional standards and that the necessary consumer protections are robust and effective.
Graham Matthews, President
“With ongoing, and significant, change to the way legal services are provided, we argued strongly for new, flexible legislation to replace the current patchwork governing solicitors. During the year, the Scottish Government established an independent review of the regulation of legal services. We met members of the review group and drafted a comprehensive response paper outlining the case for change.
“Discussions with the Government also took place over how to better shape the future of the legal aid system. In response to the independent review of legal aid, we called for an urgent overhaul of the system, increased investment and less bureaucracy.”
“In other work to influence the many changes taking place, we provided a leading voice for the solicitors’ profession and the public as the UK continues the process of withdrawing from the European Union, participating in a number of high-profile events and responding promptly and fully to Government policy positions and legislative proposals.”
Lorna Jack, chief executive
“Technological advances continued to offer business advantages, as well as challenges, for law firms in the past year. In concentrating on areas of business and professional support, we provided a range of new services to our members, including producing well-received cybersecurity guidance to help solicitors and their colleagues understand and avert cyber threats. We also conducted a technology audit of the profession and staged a technology and cybercrime conference in Glasgow. Among other new services, we developed a new, world-class website and launched a massive open online course (MOOC) on shipping law.”
“Among other key projects last year, we moved forward with the development of new, alternative routes to qualification, continued to grow our non-core income and considered ways to improve the way we handle conduct complaints. Increasing numbers across almost all membership categories and generating non-membership income – for instance, through our restructured CPD & Training team – helped keep the cost of our practising certificate at the same level as the previous year.”
Carole Ford, Regulatory Committee convener
“Among the significant developments in our regulatory work in 2016-17, we made progress on the implementation of the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive and, in connection with the legal services review, we reaffirmed our commitment to the Society having the permissive power over entity regulation. We also discussed the unregulated sector – those providing legal services who are not regulated. This led to research being carried out which established that the majority of the public do not differentiate between solicitors and lawyers, and one of the issues now covered in our representations to the legal services review is the need for a statutory restriction around who can call themselves a lawyer.
“During the year, the Society initiated legal proceedings against the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to gain clarity on how existing hybrid complaints issues should be handled in light of a previous court ruling that they were unlawful. The ruling was that the SLCC had the power to recategorise complaints issues already classed as hybrid. It was a split decision, emphasising the complexity of the issue. The judgment ensured we had clarity and also helped to prevent any attempt to unpick historic cases. Despite this challenging set of circumstances we continue to have a good working relationship with the SLCC, liaising on cases to agree categorisation.
“In January 2017, we were approved as a regulator of licensed legal services providers, though Scottish ministers have yet to authorise us to act before we can accept applications from interested businesses. We are engaged in discussions about a number of outstanding matters and will also need to resubmit our regulatory scheme because of changes to practice rules and following the introduction of new anti-money laundering regulations.”
John Mulholland, Finance Committee convener and treasurer
“The Society remains committed to achieving continual improvement in its financial performance through achieving efficiencies and cost savings across the business; improved financial forecasting; growth of non-subscription incomes; maintenance of reserves at an appropriate level; and managing historic final salary pension scheme liabilities through close liaison with the scheme’s trustees.”
View the full annual report, including a report of the Society’s Regulatory Committee, at www.lawscot.org.uk