OFT says Scottish legal services restrictions harm consumers

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) heaped more pressure on the regulators of the Scottish legal market today (31 July) after it concluded that restrictions over the provision of legal services could be harming consumers.

It has made recommendations to the Scottish Executive and the legal professions in Scotland to lift the restrictions, echoing calls made in a super-complaint from consumers’ association Which? (www.thelawyer.com, 8 May).

The restrictions in Scotland include those on advocates’ business structures, solicitors and advocates providing services jointly and cover third-party entry into the market and direct consumer access to advocates.

The OFT has concluded that these restrictions are unnecessary. It believes that there would be benefits to consumers, such as efficiency gains and higher levels of innovation in the provision of legal services, if they were lifted.

Sean Williams, OFT executive director of markets and projects, said: “There should be real benefits to Scottish consumers in allowing solicitors and advocates to adopt the most efficient businesses structures. I hope the Scottish Executive can work with the profession to remove restrictions that, in our view, are unnecessary and prevent solicitors and advocates from innovating to meet the needs of consumers.”

The OFT said it was now looking to the Scottish Executive to outline its approach to removing these restrictions in Scotland. The Executive has agreed to respond formally to these recommendations within 90 days.

The Law Society of Scotland, one of the regulators of the Scottish legal
market, said that it wants to “see Scotland’s legal profession thrive in
today’s global market”.

Douglas Mill, the chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said:
“What we must ensure though is that Scotland seeks its own solutions and
that access to justice and protection of the public remain core to any plans
for reform.”

Mills added: “The society welcomes the OFT’s recommendations, which endorse the work going on including consultations with the Scottish Executive, profession and other stakeholders.”