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Council affirms policy but recognises divisions

27 May 2010

The Law Society of Scotland's Council today ratified its policy on alternative business structures following the outcome of the Annual General Meeting held this morning, but agreed that Scottish Government ministers and MSPs should be informed that substantial numbers of its members still oppose that policy.

In three votes, all by narrow majorities of almost 3,000 solicitors who took part in person or by proxy, the AGM supported the Council's policy to allow minority external investment of up to 49% in a legal practice, also supported a motion by Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre to allow non-solicitor ownership only by a minority (up to 25%) of individuals working for the practice in question, but rejected a motion by the Scottish Law Agents Society that would have prohibited any form of non-solicitor ownership.

At the Council meeting following the AGM, members discussed whether Council should formally adopt any policy at all, as Mr Dailly's motion had received a higher number of votes than the Council motion, but voted to accept the policy which in terms of the Society's constitution was now technically binding. However it was recognised that there was not a consensus among the membership and that the full picture should be conveyed to the Government and Parliament.

Jamie Millar, who took over as President of the Law Society of Scotland from Ian Smart at the meeting, said: “Each of the votes was very close and it’s clear there still are still divided views, particularly on external investment."

He added: “However we are now in the situation where there has been a vote in favour of compromise which is pro ABS, but with a strong view though that the ownership, control and management of law firms must remain with solicitors.

“The legal services market is highly competitive and it’s important that our members can start to plan ahead as we come out of the recession. I think today has given us an opportunity to move forwards and continue to make representations to the Government and MSPs to ensure that any new legislation on legal services provision is going to provide all the safeguards that clients need as well as the opportunities that many of the profession want to take."

Mr Millar said that the key in all this was the Society’s regulatory capabilities. "We should have faith in the Society as a regulator. Our standards are kept high because we are regulated by an able and experienced regulatory team. With the Society regulating ABSs, the regime, including a fitness to own test, will be more stringent than any test we currently have so that standards, ethics and core values are protected."

Outgoing President Ian Smart's final address to the AGM can be read online by clicking here.  

Jamie Miller, the new President, is a partner in the Glasgow office of Lindsays. Cameron Ritchie, who has retired from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Services, becomes vice president.

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