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ABS wins by a whisker

7 April 2010

Scottish solicitors have voted by the narrowest of margins in favour of legal services reform.

The result of the referendum on alternative business structures showed 2,245 votes in favour of their introduction, with appropriate safeguards, and 2,221 against, a majority of just 24.

The second question, whether the Society should be involved in regulating the new service providers, produced a much bigger majority, 3,622 to 844, an 81% yes vote.

The turnout of 4,466 represents 42.6% of those eligible to vote.

Ian Smart, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The narrowness of the result clearly illustrates just how the issue has brought out widely divergent views across the profession.

“While there have been a few heated remarks on the wider fringes of the debate, I believe that the vast majority of solicitors still wish to try and find a united way forward. These results will therefore inform the ongoing policy debate which will also continue both in private and the reconvened Special General Meeting later this month.

“There are, I believe, already areas of consensus on some models of ABS but more work still requires to be done to find an overall solution to what is, undoubtedly, one of the most important issues faced by the Society in my more than 30 years of professional life. Trying to find an agreement will continue to be the number one priority of all of us within the leadership of the Society."

Michael Scanlan, President of the Scottish Law Agents Society, which called the SGM to oppose ABS, said SLAS was very pleased that the profession had engaged with the debate in significant numbers by voting in the referendum. The result reflected the divisions of opinion within the profession.

He added: "Such a narrow margin does not provide any clear mandate. Unfortunately a referendum can provide an answer to only a very crude question and the debate, certainly from our perspective, has been carried out from a principled approach seeking answers to what are generally acknowledged to be the critical questions of, independence of the profession, client confidentiality, the benefits of the Guarantee Fund and the Master Policy.

“That debate with the real issues was fully engaged at the SGM and we are now focussing on the adjourned SGM where we intend proceeding with the motion. We hope that the Council of the Law Society will now work with us in seeking to move forward in a constructive way in relation to the bill.”

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