Scotland

Law Society members vote for 'dual role' status quo

Legal documents
Image caption Members of the Law Society Scotland voted in a referendum

Solicitors have voted in favour of continuing to be represented by the Law Society of Scotland.

The body looks after the interests of the country's 10,500 solicitors, as well as regulating the profession.

But solicitors were divided over whether they should be allowed more choice over who represents them, amid plans to reform legal services.

However 73% of Law Society members who took part in a referendum have voted in favour of retaining the status quo.

The Law Society of Scotland, which was was set up in 1949, has the dual functions of protecting both the interests of the profession and the public.

A group of solicitors, which included the Glasgow Bar Association, called for the referendum on whether the Law Society should continue to be the representative body in Scotland.

They argued the profession should have the freedom to break away and form different bodies.

But the Law Society said having a "single voice" would best represent the interests of the profession and prevent the costs of practice from rising.

Almost 40% of members voted in the poll, with 3,037 in favour of the society continuing its representative role and 1,101 against.

Ian Smart, president of the Law Society for Scotland, said: "The resounding result is a mandate for the society to continue to represent, regulate and support its members.

"Solicitors in Scotland have recognised that they benefit from keeping the dual roles of regulation and representation together."

The debate over the society's role was been triggered by the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through the Scottish Parliament.

It would allow high street shops, supermarkets and other commercial organisations to provide legal services to the public.

Majority ownership

The idea behind the controversial bill is the increased competition through having Alternative Business Structures (ABS) run by non-lawyers would be better for consumers.

However, many small-scale firms have raised fears their existence will be threatened by deregulation.

Solicitors debated the new legislation at the Law Society's AGM in Edinburgh.

Two, of three, motions were narrowly passed in favour of allowing ABSs, however, clear divisions remain within the profession particularly on external investment.

In addition, the meeting agreed that Scottish government ministers and MSPs should be informed that substantial numbers of its members opposed ABSs completely or believed that only a 25% minority of non-solicitors should be permitted to own law firms.

Currently only solicitors can own and run law firms in Scotland.

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