Legal changes in Scotland still some time off

The Law Society of Scotland says that the introduction of alternative business structures (ABS) in Scotland is still several months away.

ABSs (also known as Licensed Legal Service Providers) allow solicitors to set up in conjunction with other professions to provide legal services.

In England and Wales ABSs can be entirely owned by external investors but in Scotland they must be 51% owned by lawyers or other regulated professionals.

The first draft of a regulatory framework to make the change in Scotland has been submitted to the Scottish Government.

The Law Society has said that the Scottish Government needs to introduce regulations in several areas before further progress could be made.

Phillip Yelland, director of regulation at the Law Society of Scotland, believes the end of this year would be the earliest ABS could be introduced.

He pointed out that as well as approval from the Government, the Office of Fair Trading and Lord President may need to give sign off.

However, he said: "But compared to where we were six months ago we’re further forward.

"We’ve got the first set of Government regulations, we’ve done a lot of talking to people, we’ve built our regulation and licensing part based on that, and we just need to see how quickly we can move it forward.

"We are hopeful that the Scottish Government will confirm it is content with the direction of travel we’re going in with our draft regulatory scheme so far."

Mr Yelland said there had been growing interest from firms, with increasing numbers contacting the Society to ask about becoming a licenced provider.

He was keen to stress the importance of regulation of the new structures: "As a regulator, we want to see consistency of regulation and standards.

“All individual solicitors will continue to be regulated by the Society and I think it’s important that we can also regulate new types of legal services businesses to ensure that there is consistency right across the legal services sector.”

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