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The Law Society's current policy to act as regulator of Licensed Providers of legal services "conflicts directly" with the policy of the European Bar Council, and risks "reputational damage internationally", a former member of the Law Society Council has warned.
Walter Semple says that international opinion considers non-lawyer ownership of law firms to be shameful, and calls on the Society's policy to be reviewed and a mandate sought in General Meeting.
"The Commission on Ethics of the American Bar Association is seeking comments on a measure that would allow non-lawyers who work at a law firm to own a limited non controlling share in the firm. The Times newspaper, in an article on 29th March on page 59 under the heading "Shame", referred to this situation and also to a statement by the Law Society of Zimbabwe condemning fee sharing by lawyers with non-lawyers as shameful behaviour. It suggested that City lawyers are heading towards international pariah status," he says.
"The current policy of the Law Society of Scotland to act as regulator of Licensed Providers conflicts directly with the situation in the USA and goes far beyond anything which is being considered by the American Bar Association. It conflicts directly with the policy of the European Bar Council. The reputational damage internationally which this policy will inflict on the Scottish solicitors’ profession must be beyond calculation."
Semple says that the Law Society has no mandate from its members in General Meeting to act as regulator of Licensed Providers, as required by the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980.
"Its policy rests on a referendum which was carried out before the Legal Services Bill was in final form," he says.
"It is time for a policy review before the ABS changes are put into effect. The Council should seek a proper mandate from a General Meeting."
The Law Society has been contacted for input to this story. The Law Society's second communciations boycott of The Firm is scheduled to expire tomorrow.
Semple's comments can be read in full here.