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Shops and banks to own law firms

1 October 09 13:43 GMT

Lawyers may be allowed to set up practice with non-legal firms as part of a shake-up in proposed legislation.

The Legal Services Bill proposes to allow banks and supermarkets to invest in legal practices and even own them.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "This new legislation will help Scotland's legal profession to compete internationally."

The plans have been branded "Tesco law" in England but Mr MacAskill has denied this would be the case in Scotland.

The removal of restrictions on lawyers going into business with other non-legal firms was instigated after a complaint by consumer group Which? to the Office of Fair Trading.

Which? claimed the current regulation of Scottish legal firms restricts choice for consumers and prevents alternative business structures from being formed.

High standards

The bill also proposes a new regulatory framework for the legal profession. And the Scottish government will appoint approved regulators for the new business structures.

Legal services in Scotland are mainly provided by solicitors and advocates. As of October last year, about 10,000 solicitors operated in the country and, as of last month, 456 advocates.

Ian Smart, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "Scots lawyers are well respected around the world.

"We want to ensure that our members have access to the opportunities that the new structure 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 it will be vitally important that the bill ensures the independence of the legal profession, promotes access to justice and maintains robust consumer protections and high standards among those delivering legal services."

Mr Smart added effective regulation was key to any plan for change.

Traditional models for law firms will still be an option for lawyers who wish to continue with them.

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