Sir David Clementi, the Prudential chairman and former deputy governor of the Bank of England, has issued his report into the provision of legal services in England and Wales which states "the current regulatory system is focused on those who provide legal services. The new frame work will place the interests of consumers at its centre". The report proposes stripping the legal profession of its powers to investigate complaints against lawyers and a new Legal Services Board would be created. The Law Society of England and Wales and the Bar Council would be compelled to separate their regulatory functions from their roles as representatives of lawyers' interests. The Law Society had anticipated some of these proposals and has already undertaken to separate its representative functions from its complaint investigations.
However, perhaps the most radical departure signified by this report is the proposal that commercial entities should be allowed to own law firms, raising the prospect of law firms floating on the stock market and allowing finance, management and other business professionals to become partners in legal practices. This report shall have to be scrutinised carefully in order to ascertain how the balance shall be struck between the duty to maximise profits for investors and the duties to act in the best interests of clients and to litigate as officers of the court. Companies and investors would be allowed to own law firms outright or to take smaller stakes, subject to safeguards to protect clients and also to regulation by the new Legal Services Board. Although the report does not support the creation of multi - disciplinary practices of accountants and lawyers working together, the report goes on to conclude that the proposed measures would be "a major step towards multi - disciplinary practices". None of these proposals have any direct bearing upon the provision of legal services in Scotland where, for the time being, non-lawyers cannot own stakes in law firms and the functions of regulation, representation and complaints administration are all subject to the statutory remit of the Law Society of Scotland but,of course, "what Parliament has given.................."
Members of our own Society shall be relieved to learn that there are no plans, for the time being, for the Scottish Law Agents Society to float itself on the Stock Exchange.