An “East/West” legal split?

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by James Aitken, Law and Legal Affairs Editor

It has been an interesting few weeks for the legal profession in Scotland.

I should start by declaring an interest.  I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland and I have also served on a number of its committees since returning to Scotland from working as an attorney in Chicago.

Today it was announced that Lindsay Montgomery, Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, gave his “personal assurance that he holds the solicitor profession in the highest regard.”  The background to this is a telephone conversation between Mike Dailly, then convener of the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee, during which Mr Montgomery is alleged to have made derogatory remarks aimed at the solicitor profession.  The Law Society of Scotland published today its report on the meeting it held with the Scottish Legal Aid Board to discuss this issue.  The report makes interesting reading and I can understand why Mr Montgomery “believe[s] it is now time to move on from the events of the last few weeks.”  Time will only tell if this matter ends here.  

Last week 160 solicitors working at Glasgow Sheriff Court wrote to the Herald calling for the Law Society to be stripped of its role as a representative body.  The Law Society of Scotland presently acts as both regulator and representative for all of Scotland’s solicitors. Later in the week this move was criticised by the Edinburgh Bar Association.  The background to the present dispute is the cut in legal aid fees for cases that go before Stipendiary Magistrates.  Stipendiary Magistrates at present only exist in the jurisdiction of Glasgow and Strathkelvin.  The Glasgow Bar Association claim that the Law Society of Scotland failed to protect them in negotiations with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.  A number of members of the Law Society Scotland’s governing council have already resigned over this issue.  

It does not end there.  This Friday the Law Society of Scotland is holding its AGM.  One of the main issues being debated is a new constitution.  This is likely to be a fiery debate with opposition coming from amongst others the Scottish Law Agents Society.

If you add to this the fact that the Alternative Business Structure debate is still bubbling away under the surface it has indeed been, and I suspect will continue to be, an interesting time for the legal profession in Scotland.