The President of the Law Society, Cameron Ritchie, addressed a meeting at the Royal Faculty of Procurators at Glasgow on Thursday evening, 22nd September, 2011. Mr Ritchie provided us with an interesting and informative account of his own function within the Law Society and with an impression of where the Law Society stands today. He acknowledged that, as a career Procurator Fiscal since about 1974, he had had no recent involvement with private practice but observed also that the same conclusion was applicable to a large proportion of the members of today’s Law Society. The President described skilfully the recent debate and conclusion of the ABS issue in terms to which nobody could take offence, while acknowledging that differences of opinion persisted.
In a question and answer discussion, the question arose as to where now lay the authority for the regulation of the solicitors’ profession and President Ritchie reiterated the formula that regulation was now the responsibility of a regulatory committee which was a committee of the Council of the Law Society but one with which Council was precluded from interfering unduly. The President acknowledged that the regulatory committee was obliged to be made up in equal numbers of solicitors and non solicitors and that the Chairman required to be appointed from the numbers of the non solicitors. Feeling was expressed from the floor that regulation had therefore moved away from the Law Society and its Council but the President was quite clear that Council would continue to influence the regulatory committee by virtue of its responsibility for the appointment of members to that committee and by virtue of Council’s entitlement to “interfere” with the Committee, albeit not unduly. Thank goodness for some clarity at last.
There was some discussion also around the ongoing issue as to whether it was right that solicitors required to subscribe to the Law Society as a representative body when it was inherent in the concept of representation that the principal should be entitled to appoint a representative of choice rather than as compelled by legislation and that this issue became more stark as the regulatory function moved away from the Law Society and from its Council, decreasing the case for compulsory subscription to the Law Society. President Ritchie gave three answers to this question, admitting that the first answer was glib, namely, that the position was prescribed by statute. However, his second and third answers were extremely interesting. In the second place, President Ritchie pointed out that compulsory subscription to representation resulted in one representative body for the whole profession and created a body which, for that reason, had more clout when dealing with external agencies. The President’s third answer acknowledged that the question gave rise to legitimate debate.
The most sinister note of the evening arose from an observation from the floor that, in England and Wales, a case was emerging for firms of solicitors to register as alternative business structures and then terminate all but one of their Law Society practising certificates and provide legal services on the basis of the one remaining solicitor.
President Ritchie acknowledged that it was already the case that about half of the members of the Law Society in Scotland did not require to subscribe to the Law Society for the purposes of their business but, nevertheless, did so, thus proving the enduring value of the status of solicitor but this reporter did not note any comment from the President upon the threat of the wholesale abandonment of practising certificates under the ABS regime. The discussion went on to touch upon the effect of all this upon the Guarantee Fund and the Master Policy but, just as the meeting found itself staring in to an abyss, time was thankfully called and, after thanking the President in the traditional manner, all went home for tea.
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