The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed MSPs’ decision to regulate non-lawyer will-writers and to give clients access to compensation in the event of dishonesty by alternative business structures (ABSs).
The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee yesterday backed government plans to introduce regulation of will-writers – including requiring them to hold professional indemnity insurance – in its consideration of amendments to the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, making Scotland the first part of the UK to offer such protection.
The Law Society of Scotland and others, including the Scottish Law Agents Society, had pressed the government for non-lawyer will writers to be regulated because of incidents which had left consumers unable to seek any kind of redress for inaccurate, inadequate or overly expensive advice.
Communities Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said that he had been told of a case where a non-lawyer will writer had driven an elderly client to the bank to pay a £1,000 cash fee for a will. He also said there were cases where the advice given had been poor because of a lack of knowledge in areas of tax law or had been based on English law.
Jamie Millar, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said he was very pleased that the government and committee had introduced changes to the bill “which would strengthen consumer protections while retaining consumer choice”.
The society’s Guarantee Fund is a compensation fund of last resort for those who have suffered as a result of dishonesty of a solicitor. MSPs agreed that those who seek legal advice from a new “licensed legal service provider” – what ABSs are being called in Scotland – should have the same access to compensation as those who go to a traditional solicitors’ firm. The committee passed an amendment which would mean all legal services providers should contribute to and access the fund, with any individual claim on the fund capped at £1.25 million (it is £1 million in England and Wales).
There will be further talks between the government and the Law Society of Scotland over the summer to determine the detail of how this will work.
Last week, the committee decided that ABSs in Scotland should be majority owned by solicitors or other professionals (see story). All of the committee’s decisions will need to be confirmed by the full Scottish Parliament during stage 3 of the bill’s consideration (this is stage 2).