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Supermarkets allowed to offer legal services

Organisations such as banks and supermarkets will be able to offer legal services in Scotland for the first time under new legislation - dubbed "Tesco law".

Supermarkets allowed to offer legal services

Organisations such as banks and supermarkets will be able to offer legal services in Scotland for the first time under new legislation - dubbed "Tesco law".

A new bill, published on Thursday aims to offer the public more choice of legal service providers, and has been backed by leading lawyers and consumer groups.

The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill also spells out the "alternative business structures" (ABS), which would help Scotland's legal profession to compete on the international stage.

However, concerns have been raised about the impact on smaller law firms.

The introduction of the bill follows recommendations from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to offer the public more choice of legal services, after a complaint by consumer magazine Which?

In Scotland, only solicitors can own law firms and form partnerships with other solicitors under the terms of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980.

The bill will remove restrictions on solicitors entering into business relationships with non-solicitors.

ABS will also allow solicitors to secure external investment and business expertise and to combine with other professionals to offer legal services to the public in new ways.

It is hoped the new measures will make it easier for Scotland's top commercial law firms to compete both in the UK and internationally.

Ian Smart, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "The society has been active in driving the debate on alternative business structures and I am very pleased that the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill has been introduced into parliament.

"The society believes that Scotland's legal profession should be able to adapt to best meet the needs of modern society and a global economy.

"Scots lawyers are well respected around the world and we want to ensure that our members have access to the opportunities that ABS could present to adopt new practices, to deliver the services their clients expect and develop their businesses in Scotland, as well as elsewhere in the UK and overseas."

However, earlier this year, Mike Dailly, principal solicitor at the Govan Law Centre in Glasgow, described the proposed reforms as "scary".

He said: "ABS promises Scotland a future of 'Tesco law' where multinational supermarkets and banks can own, control and trade shares in solicitors, advocates and the gateways to justice.

"It's a scary thought. Particularly, as the predatory and anti-competitive nature of multinationals is likely to result in small and medium sized Scottish legal firms being artificially undercut and forced out of business in mainstream areas of legal practice."
 

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