Scottish Legal Reforms on Knife-Edge

Solicitors in Scotland have voted by an extraordinarily narrow margin in favour of introducing so-called alternative business structures. For the background, see my report in last week’s Law Society Gazette.

The Law Society of Scotland announced that 2,245 of its members voted in favour of new arrangements as long as there were appropriate safeguards; while 2,221 voted against, a majority of just 24.

On the second question, a decisive 81% of votes were in favour of the society applying to be a regulator of the new structures if they are introduced.

A total of 4,466 solicitors, 43% of the society’s membership, voted in a secret ballot run by the Electoral Reforms Services which closed yesterday.

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 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.”

A special general meeting called by opponents of the change was adjourned pending the referendum and will reconvene on April 16.

As I explained in my article last week, if the Law Society of Scotland decides not to regulate alternative business structures there seems little doubt that the “big four” Scottish commercial law firms will apply to be regulated by the Law Society of England and Wales.

The alternative is to mobilise fast for next week’s meeting, which will be held closer to the centre of Edinburgh than the previous session. 

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