While Covid-19, its impact on the sector and key institutions, the ongoing impact of Brexit, and a return of focus to the climate emergency mean that uncertainty remains, for our business this does not feel the defining factor for the coming year. Instead, it perhaps feels like a year of opportunity, even if these opportunities are often borne from difficult circumstances.
After years of discussion, and for the first time, it really feels as if we’ll make progress on reform. We have recently seen the publication of Legal Services Regulation Reform in Scotland, which consults on potential models for reform of regulation, complaints and redress. The SLCC has long called for future-focused reform, dating back to our Reimagine Regulation paper, published in 2016. Since then, polling has shown that the public want to see a system that is independent, accountable and transparent. We’re look forward to contributing to this consultation, and to playing our part in the move towards a system of modern, agile legal regulation fit for 21st century Scotland.
We also believe we may see implementation of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 and the first fully authorised regulator of new business models. This would be progress for the legal businesses, and consumers. It also strategically changes the position of the SLCC, moving us from holding powers of oversight of conduct complaints and indemnity of the current relevant professional organisations, to being able to accept any complaint about how a new regulator operates. In preparing for this, we have looked to other ‘regulators of regulators’, who hold similar powers, like the Legal Services Board or Professional Standards Authority. The standards and policies we apply in dealing with these types of complaints, on issues from equality, to competition in the sector, to access to justice, will be a part of shaping how regulation overall works.
Finally, following a consultation this year, we also expect to see draft regulations brought forward to make some amendments to the current complaints system using subordinate legislation. If all three of these reforms do progress, then by the end of the coming year our future plans may look very different, and long debated improvements for lawyers and consumers alike look more tangible.
Over the last four years we’ve been on a huge improvement journey. Our core performance is stronger than ever, and the focus has moved from the easily measurable areas of complaint handling times and backlogs, to quality, clarity of communication and customer service. Reporting on our progress with these will be more qualitative in the coming year, and sits alongside maintaining the gains made in efficiency made over the last four years. This is accompanied by an environment where complaints have fallen, and we have reduced resource to take account of that. We were pleased to reduce the levy for all lawyers at the start of the year, and will continue to look at the value we deliver.
I have already discussed our response to date on Covid-19. Looking forward, by the end of this coming year we hope to have significant parts of a new operating model in place, and have published plans for any remaining elements be in place by the end of 2023.
My closing comment must be a thanks to the staff team – Covid-19 has been tiring, change can be tiring, but they have bought energy and enthusiasm every day, and are up for making the most of these opportunities. They are key to everything we deliver for the sector and consumers.