Law Society of Scotland publishes a new strategy to improve regulatory process and enhance competition in the legal sector

The Law Society of Scotland’s Regulatory Committee has revealed a new two-year strategy, which is focused on improving regulatory processes, enhancing competition in Scotland’s legal sector and ensuring robust consumer protections. The Regulatory Committee is independent from the Law Society’s Council (the governing body of the Society), and is responsible for overseeing a number of sub-committees, as well as setting its own strategy, with the remit of regulating practice. The committee is made up of an equal numbers of solicitor and non-solicitor members and is led by a non-solicitor convener.

The new strategy sets out five overarching objectives. The first,  ‘protect’, is focused on protecting consumer and public interest, and protecting the rule of law. The second, ‘scrutinise’, is focused on examining the work of the subcommittee and other delegates of the committee to ensure their value and productivity. The remaining three are ‘enhance’, ‘align’, and ‘develop’. ‘Enhance’ is focused on raising public awareness of the society’s work, as well as developing a proportionate and principals focused regulatory structure that will enhance the competitiveness of the Scottish legal sector. ‘Align’ is focused on making sure that the regulatory committee’s work aligns with other groups in the society, whilst ‘develop’ is a process of internal self-reflection and development.

Craig Cathcart, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland Regulatory Committee said: “The legal profession has a key role in our society. Solicitors help people at pivotal points in their lives whether they are buying a new home, planning for the future of their family, building a successful business or upholding their rights in court. Anyone who seeks the advice of a solicitor must feel confident that they are in good hands. Having a robust and fair regulatory system which sets high standards for entry to Scotland’s solicitor profession and throughout a solicitor’s years in practice, along with clear consumer protections, provides that assurance.”

Read the full strategy here. 

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Event: Law Society of Scotland Annual Conference 2021

April; 26 – 30, 2021

Online

Running over the week of April 26-30, our online annual conference is our most ambitious yet with over 35 sessions ranging from black letter law, to in-house, recent legal developments and essential skills.

And if you can’t be there for all of it – that’s okay, you can dip in and out, safe in the knowledge that a ticket gives you access to all the sessions you missed after the conference closes. So, if you can’t choose between a session on Judicial Appointments and e-conveyancing, don’t worry –you can watch both a time that suits you.

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Law Society of Scotland launches new Racial Inclusion Group

The Law Society of Scotland has launched a new group on Racial Inclusion, headed up by Tatora Mukushi, a solicitor with Shelter Scotland, who has been appointed as the first convener of the group.

The group has been formed by the Law Society, with the goal of forming a better understanding of the lived and professional experiences of its Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members and to offer recommendations on how to improve racial inclusion across the profession.

The group plans to revisit the Profile of the Profession, and to undertake a literature review of other data sources that may provide insight into improving racial inclusion; undertaking research with BAME law students, trainees and solicitors; and speaking to other stakeholders within the profession, such as firms and universities, on best practice, challenges and how to overcome such challenges. With the goal of providing a report on their findings with recommendations late in 2021.

Tatora Mukushi, convener of the Racial Inclusion Group, said: “I am personally and professionally delighted that the Law Society is tackling this issue in a genuinely participatory manner. Our group will combine analysis of historical and contemporary data with relevant lived experience in order to honestly reflect the social dilemma of racial inclusion within the profession and we hope to be able to suggest pragmatic actions to advance this progressive agenda.”

As convener of the Group, Tatora will also be the Law Society’s representative on the Scottish Government’s Cross-Justice Working Group on Race and Workforce.

Find out more about the new group here. 

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Updated UK national risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing

The UK Treasury has published an updated UK National Risk Assessment of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. This follows the previous update from October 2017 and sets out the key money laundering and terrorist financing risks for the UK, and how these have developed since the first publication in 2015.

Specifically, chapter 10 documents the UK Government’s view of the key money laundering risks associated with legal services.

Key risks:

  • Legal services is at high risk of being abused by criminals seeking to launder money
  • These risks increase when legal professionals fail to carry out their obligations under the money laundering regulations (MLRs) or take a tick box approach to compliance
  • Specific services provided which may be most vulnerable to abuse remain conveyancing, Trust and Company Service Provision (TCSP) and the provision of client account facilities. Other areas of risk include sham litigation, notarial services, cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding
  • The risk of legal services being used for terrorist financing purposes remains low
  • The assessment notes that most legal firms comply with their AML obligations and there has been an improvement in technical compliance. However, it further states “there are a significant minority of Legal Service Providers which do not focus on AML compliance and some still lack an understanding of the risks they face”.

Graham MacKenzie, Head of AML at the Law Society of Scotland has said “The legal sector risks, findings and trends noted in the new UK National Risk Assessment are generally consistent with the findings of our AML supervisory assurance work, and we welcome the more nuanced tone taken by the government in recognising not all conveyancing or TCSP work warrants a higher money laundering risk rating. I’d advise firms to now review, and (where necessary) refresh their firm-level risk assessments under r.18 of the Money Laundering Regulations. There is a wealth of information available on our website to support firms in this process, and lookout for new, fully revised UK legal sector AML guidance which will also be released later this month. We ourselves are obliged to review and refresh our supervisory Scottish legal sectoral risk assessment, previously published in March 2018 following the publication of the UK national assessment. This process will start shortly, and the document will be made publicly available on our website.”

Read the full updates here. 

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Law Society of Scotland introduces new price transparency guidelines

Guidance for Solicitors in Scotland around price transparency is set to come into effect in January 2021. Under the new guidance, firms will be required to publish indicative price information about their services. The guidance will not apply to firms that solely undertake legal aid work or those which provide legal services to businesses, and was originally published shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, however, due to the ongoing challenges raised by the pandemic, it was delayed until 2021.

Craig Cathcart, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland Regulatory Committee, said: “The past six months have been exceptionally challenging for the legal profession and the Regulatory Committee decided to delay the introduction of the guidance to allow firms to respond to the immediate issues presented by Covid-19. It is important however, that as we continue to adapt to the current environment, we also progress key areas of work.

The guidance has been developed to improve price transparency and encourages solicitors to proactively publish information to help people seeking legal services make better-informed choices. Whether someone is thinking of buying a new home, wants to make a will or set up a power of attorney, or they may have separated from a partner or have an employment problem, we hope members of the public will be able to get a better idea of the typical costs involved in such cases early on.

As well as increasing clarity for consumers, it can help improve access to justice. A report published by the Competition and Markets Authority on the legal services market in England and Wales a few years ago indicated that some people are put off seeking professional legal advice altogether as they are worried about price. This could ultimately cost them even more – financially and emotionally – if left unresolved.”

Read the Law Society’s comments here, or the full guidance here.

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Law Society of Scotland COVID-19 impact surveys and COP26 working group

COVID-19 impact

In April/May 2020 the Law Society of Scotland undertook a telephone survey with private practice firms to understand the financial impact the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent restrictions were having on the sector.  90% of firms surveyed reported a downturn in new business, with the majority also reporting reduced turnover and cashflow.

Read analysis of the survey (PDF).

Subsequently, the Law Society of Scotland ran a similar version of the survey with Heads of Legal Services/General Counsel in the in-house sector and also conducted an online survey with the wider in-house legal community.

Read the preliminary analysis of the in-house Heads of Legal survey results. (PDF)

Read the analysis of the online survey of in-house practitioners. (PDF)

COP26

The Law Society has also announced the creation of a new working group for COP26 (26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to be held in Glasgow from 1- 21 November 2021).  The UK is hosting the main event with Italy hosting the preliminary meetings. COP26 is described as the largest summit ever to be held by the UK.  The Group is exploring and considering how the Society can best promote and support the members’ interests in COP26 and with the wider climate change agenda. 

Find out more.

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Law Society of Scotland strategic partnership on cybersecurity

The Law Society of Scotland has agreed a new strategic partnership with Mitigo, a cybersecurity consultancy.  The partnership will provide targeted guidance, advice and resources for the legal sector, helping solicitors to keep their digital operations secure. As well as supporting CPD and training events and providing practical advice, Mitigo will offer security and resilience services directly to Law Society members.  This covers risk assessments, technology testing, training, governance and incident response.  They also provide a dedicated expert client helpline and sandbox to which suspicious content may be sent.

Paul Mosson, Executive Director of Member Services and Engagement at the Law Society of Scotland said: “Cybercrime is a major threat to all organisations regardless of size and law firms can be a particularly attractive target to criminals due to holding sensitive data, often in combination with the movement of large amounts of money. With most organisations currently working remotely, the need to have confidence in your cyber security has never been greater. The team at Mitigo has been working with firms in England and Wales since 2017 and has the technical expertise as well as extensive knowledge of the legal sector to help solicitors and their employees understand, anticipate and manage their risks.”

Lindsay Hill, CEO at Mitigo, said: “Law firms become victims of cybercrime when they confuse cybersecurity with their IT support. They are different things. We are seeing an alarming increase in attacks by criminal gangs involving ransomware and email account takeover. We are delighted to be working with the Law Society to help keep their members safe.”

See the Law Society’s full announcement.

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Law Society of Scotland launches new mental health action plan

On Wednesday the 3rd June, The Law Society of Scotland launched a three-year action plan that aims to tackle the stigma around mental health in the legal sector.

The plan follows the release of a survey in 2019 on the Scottish legal profession and individual views on mental health and the workplace. The full survey findings are broken down in the new report, The status of mental health stigma and discrimination in the Scottish legal profession

The survey was run in partnership with See Me, the Scotland-wide programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination.

The report, based on analysis of 1242 responses, found that 77% of respondents wanted to better understand mental health problems to be able to provide support. More than half of respondents also said that training for managers (62%) and staff (54%) would be beneficial to improve workplace culture.

The survey also explored if legal professionals felt they could discuss mental health issues at work. It found that:

  • 46% of respondents believed opportunities for staff to have open and honest conversations about mental health would create a more positive attitude
  • 39% of respondents felt the senior leaders in their organisation show their commitment to staff mental health
  • However: 24% thought supervisors/line managers knew how to support staff in relation to their mental health and wellbeing.
  • 24% had observed or were aware of stigmatising attitudes to mental health and 23% also said they had observed or were aware of discrimination within their own organisations.

In response to the survey findings, the Law Society has set out a seven-step framework for change. It includes working with leaders across the sector to create a more open culture, promoting mental health engagement and awareness campaigns and developing its existing Lawscot Wellbeing online portal as a one-stop-shop for all resources. The society has also committed to improving awareness of mental health issues within its own organisation and carrying out a follow-up review in 3 years time.

Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland 2020-21 and who is an accredited specialist in both Mental Health Law, and Incapacity and Mental Disability Law, said:

“I’m proud that we have been the first professional body in Scotland to have carried out a sector-wide survey of this kind, and to be publishing our new action plan for change today. However some of the report’s findings are not easy reading and it is clear that there is work to be done to change how we view mental health issues in the profession.

We understand the challenges. Working in law is demanding and can be pressurised at times, with substantial workloads and long hours involved in helping people resolve their legal issues, which can affect both our physical and mental health.

However, we are committed to tackling stigma and discrimination in the legal profession. We will engage with the profession and respond to feedback on how we work towards changing workplace culture by opening up conversations around mental health and, importantly, developing the right support mechanisms over the next three years.”

See the full article on the LawScot site.

Read the action plan (PDF), or see the full report. (PDF).

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CMA releases report and recommendations on Scottish legal services

On the 24th March, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) released its review and recommendations on the legal services market in Scotland.

One of the key recommendations put forward in the report is that an independent body should be set up to regulate the profession, separating representative and regulatory functions. The CMA has suggested that  “Separating regulation from representation will increase trust in this sector and result in better regulation.”

The report also included recommendations that the Law Society of Scotland should carry out a review of price and service transparency guidance, with possible mandatory rules in order to increase public confidence in pricing and to implement rules to allow ABSs to establish, following legislation allowing them a decade ago.

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s CEO said:

“It is important that people in Scotland have access to high-quality and good value legal services. In addition to increasing transparency of information, our recommendations are intended to introduce greater liberalisation that could foster growth and innovation in the delivery of legal services which would help the sector grow.”

The full report is available here.

The recommendations are available here.

The Law Society of Scotland’s response is available here.

 

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Law Society of Scotland and Information Commissioner’s Office collaboration on legal tech

A collaboration between the Law Society of Scotland and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is set to provide a boost to the legal tech sector in Scotland, through assistance in developing technology-based solutions to GDPR issues.

The Law Society of Scotland has signed a memorandum of understanding with the ICO which allows it to act as a gateway to the ICO’s innovation hub in Cheshire, which is working in partnership with technology innovators on ‘Data Protection by design’. The project aims to help companies engineer technology designed to ensure GDPR compliance from the outset and provides bespoke guidance from the ICO.

Paul Mosson, Law Society of Scotland Executive Director of Member Services and Engagement, said: “This is a very positive step for us. The shared aims of the MOU will enable closer working between the Law Society, our members and the ICO, allowing us to take a more collaborative approach and exchange information to support our growing legal tech community.”

To read more click here.

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