WJM Trainee Blogs

14th June 2019

2019 is particularly significant year for the legal profession because it is 100 years since a change in the law permitted women to become lawyers for the first time. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to build a career as a solicitor.

WJM trainess have been busy writing blogs on the biggest changes they have seen to the legal profession and what they think the biggest change is to come is. 

You can read them here:

 

The Planning (Scotland) Bill

With the Planning (Scotland) Bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament, it’s an interesting time to be joining WJM’s planning department as a Newly Qualified Solicitor.

The Bill, which seeks to “strengthen and simplify” our planning system, completed Stage 2 of the parliamentary process in November 2018. It has been heavily amended since it was originally laid before Parliament.

The Bill seeks to revise the preparation and content of local development plans, notably extending their lifecycle from 5 to 10 years. It also aims to give communities a say in the planning process by introducing ‘local place plans’. These would be produced by community bodies and would set out their ambitions for the local area. The intention is that local place plans would then be considered by local authorities when developing planning policy and making individual decisions. Another point of note is that the Bill is seeking to require planning permission to use a residential property as a short term let. With the rise of letting sites like Airbnb, this has the potential to have a major impact.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Bill is the proposed infrastructure levy. The purpose of this would be to provide a transparent way of financing the infrastructure required to support development. This is currently achieved through the use of section 75 agreements, which can often cause delays. Whilst the Bill does not provide any detail as to how the levy would operate, a similar scheme (fixed price per square metre of development) has been introduced in England. This scheme has only had mixed success and has not removed the need for the English equivalent of section 75 agreements.

With so many amendments to the Bill, it has been estimated by the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland that it now places up to 88 new duties and responsibilities on local authorities. According to the Scottish Government, this could cost local authorities an additional £75 million per annum. The Scottish Government is currently looking at removing some of the additional burdens, with the Minister for Planning and Housing acknowledging, “as things stand, we risk losing the savings that could have been achieved through streamlining and creating millions of pounds of new costs for planning authorities.”

It remains to be seen what the final version of the Bill will look like and when, if at all, it will be passed by Parliament. As I start out in my career, I will be keeping a keen eye on how this develops.

2nd Year Trainee Amy McDougall 

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Technology plays an integral part in a solicitor’s ability to deliver a first-class service to clients. With growing competition in the legal market and increasing client demand, firms are eager to improve their efficiency and, in turn, their cost effectiveness. To that end, the need to embrace the use of new legal technology has become essential to ensure that the best possible service to is delivered in an ever-changing professional environment.

Over recent years there has been a substantial push on the development of new technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence solutions and Automation tools. While this type of technology may seem far off for some, many firms are keen to embrace it, with many larger firms leading the way to secure competitive advantages.

It is with this push for innovation that, in 2018, we saw the Law Society of Scotland announce the launch of their new scheme - LawscotTech. This scheme has the aim of bringing together legal professionals and IT specialists to collaborate on finding new technical advances to enhance working within the sector.

There is the possibility for technology to change every aspect of the way in which a law firm operates - from how we do research to how we interact with clients. It is likely to pose new challenges for firms too, such as maintaining effective cyber security in an increasingly digital world. And of course, even though it is widely accepted that the development of new legal technology will be of benefit to law firms, there is an ever-present fear that down the line, the need for human input in legal work will be diminished.

At this point in time, the real life ramifications of all of this are unknown, but as technology progresses - change is inevitable. There is a clear push for innovation within the legal profession today and firms who fail to embrace new technology risk falling behind.

1st Year Traineee Eleanor Clarke

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The Scottish legal landscape has transformed in quite a dramatic way since I began my legal studies in 2011.

We have witnessed a significant number of independent Scottish law firms being subsumed by large national and multi-national firms, which has consolidated the legal market. HBJ Gateley merged with Addleshaw Goddard in 2017 in order to increase growth and have a wider offering in terms of expertise. The result? Shortly after, they reported an increase in revenue of 23%. In 2017 we also saw Maclay, Murray and Spens merge with Dentons in order to develop globally and provide a more well rounded service to their clients. The result? They too reported strong financial results shortly after, with a 21% increase in revenue. Not to mention Archibald Campbell & Harley merging with Shoosmiths in 2012, McGrigors merging with Pinsent Masons in 2013, Dundas & Wilson merging with CMS in 2014, Simpson & Marwick merging with Clyde & Co in 2015…and so the list goes on…

Sadly, we have also seen many firms go into administration, the most recent examples being Morisons, McClure Naismith, Tods Murray and Pagan Osborne. The reasons? Unaffordable office premises, poor cash flow and debt recovery, the financial crisis, to name just a few. Where does this leave the remaining independent Scottish law firms in the current market and with the continued uncertainty over Brexit?

It certainly isn’t all doom and gloom and the changing legal landscape creates exciting opportunities for many. The options certainly aren’t as stark as merge with a global firm or go bust. There are plenty of thriving independent Scottish firms showing continued growth and development in an increasingly competitive legal market. For example:- Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie, Harper Macleod, Brodies, Morton Fraser and Burness Paull are just some of the successful firms which remain. Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie have demonstrated continued expansion throughout Scotland with three strategic mergers with other Scottish independent law firms since 2015. As a trainee of the firm I know first-hand the importance they place in their independence and its part in their continued growth and success. Other firms have adopted a similar strategy in merging with smaller independent law firms to gain a foothold into different sectors and regional markets.

Where will we be in another eight years? Watch this space!

2nd Year Trainee Hannah Moore

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Emerging Markets

The economic growth of countries such as China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil means that there will be an increase in the demand for legal services by UK businesses that want to expand abroad and gain entry into these emerging markets.

For example, the John Wood Group PLC a multinational energy services company with headquarters in Aberdeen has, since 2015, grown its international presence in countries such as China, Gabon, India and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand companies from China and India have increased their investments abroad by setting up subsidiaries or making local acquisitions into the UK. Indian firm Tata Motors own Jaguar Land Rover Limited and also, under Tata Global Beverages owns the UK Tetley brand (the second largest tea brand globally). Chinese companies are also heavily investing in the UK with companies such as C.Banner (a large Chinese footwear and fashion wear conglomerate) acquiring the famous Hamleys toy shop (founded in London in 1760), and Ctrip (one of China’s biggest online travel companies) having purchased Edinburgh based Skyscanner in 2016.

Businesses in Scotland that are targeting new markets in these fast growing economies will need guidance on the law and business environment. As a result, it will be important for Scottish firms to form network alliances across the world with local firms and practices. The starting point will be to join global legal networks but this will not be sufficient as further links will have to be made with accountants, tax advisors and even marketing organisations so as to provide a full service across board to clients.

Lawyers will not only be required to have knowledge of their own legal system but also a good knowledge of, for example, company, tax or property law of other countries. The era of legal professionals having knowledge of just one legal system will probably come to an end. Although emerging economies can prove to be a challenge, efforts made to understand and form links within these markets will reap rewards. There is great potential for growth as those economies are expanding faster than Western European and North American states. However efforts must be backed by good research and sound analysis of the risks and rewards. For a start, perhaps Scottish firms might want to identify new areas in markets that could present a logical and strategic fit and then take an early lead in developing links in these states.

1st Year Trainee Jesse Hevor 

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Who Runs the World…?

2019 is a particularly significant year for the legal profession as we reach 100 years since a change in the law permitted women to become lawyers for the first time.

This year, the Law Society of Scotland has published statistics comparing, over time, the percentage of male to female members. In 1953 only 3% of the Society’s 3008 solicitor members were women. In 1988 the percentage of female solicitor members grew to 26% followed by a massive swing in favour of women to 53% in 2018.

What do those figures look like in the real world? At Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie we currently employ 74 solicitors (including our trainees) with37 female solicitors and 37 male solicitors.

Whilst the figures show that women are now equal in numbers to men across the legal profession generally speaking, it seems that this level playing field has not yet permeated the upper echelons of the legal profession where the percentage split is still weighted in favour of men. The lack of females in leading roles hasn’t gone unnoticed. Lady Hale, the only woman on the 12-strong Supreme Court bench, recently remarked that the UK Supreme Court should be “ashamed” if it doesn’t radically improve its diversity, although it should also be noted that diversity issues with the Supreme Court are not just that of gender.

So what do I think is the biggest change in the profession still to come? More females in leadership roles generally, more female partners in law firms and equality of gender in the Courts.

It has been 100 years since The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to build a career as a solicitor in Scotland, but I doubt it will take 100 more for the girls to run the world…

2nd Year Trainee Laura Kelly 

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Is the Current System of Regulation Fit for Purpose?

We live in a generation where the expectation is that our every day needs should be met quickly and with super-human perfection. Perhaps not an unreasonable one given constant the technological advances making it possible. The consequences, however, of such high expectations is that when things go wrong, we feel truly aggrieved. We need someone to point a finger at who will put it right or bear the consequences. The legal profession is no exception- but is the current system of regulation still fit for purpose?

The Scottish Government’s 2018 Report on the review of the regulation of legal services expressed concern for the existing framework. The Law Society of Scotland’s submission threw up several criticisms, commenting that the system is overly complex, expensive and lacking in proper oversight. A legislative overhaul is required as any updates to current legislation would become outdated very quickly.

The report sets out 40 recommendations for reform, with emphasis on establishing one regulatory body to address the issue of the ‘multi- faceted, multiagency process’, as opposed to the present five. It is proposed that this body would be accountable to the Scottish Parliament and subject to scrutiny by Audit Scotland.

The complaints process would be based on consumer principles and mediation could be introduced, as well as a simple appeals process. The new procedure would cut both time and costs from the current procedure and devote itself to a proactive approach to issues.

The proposed regime would certainly seem to tighten up regulation of the profession and allow redress for discontented consumers; they can complain more easily and get a quicker outcome. For those cases of habitual negligence and gross misconduct, this may seem like the perfect solution. However, it has yet to be seen whether these proposals offer a sufficient level of protection for the legal profession itself who can often be the subject of vexatious or unwarranted complaints. Hopefully it will not deter a new generation of lawyers.

2nd Year Trainee Lauren Graham 

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During research for my dissertation, I remember coming across an article – in no way relating to my topic – which discussed (at that time) a radical new technological innovation: the World Wide Web. The article outlined the reasons why law firms ought to get themselves on and embrace this new, ground-breaking medium or face the consequences of falling behind. To anyone of my generation, the idea of a law firm not having an online presence was striking.

I think back to that article often when I come across those looking at the development of artificial intelligence and legal technology in the legal market. Given the pace at which change is occurring, it seems possible that in a few years’ time future trainee solicitors may be interested to discover that mass document or contract reviews were once the province of the junior lawyer and not an artificial intelligence system. Or perhaps that the drafting of standard contracts was once tasked to a trainee to ‘delete the square brackets and fill in the blanks’; as opposed to a document automation system generating the finished document, possibly a process directed and controlled by the client.

Where does all of this leave the junior lawyer? The threat to the workforce of technological developments is not new and does raise questions. However, there is opportunity for the junior lawyer. Time saved on the more mundane aspects of legal practice can be utilised in other important areas of practice. This could see the role of the junior lawyer naturally developing to include tackling more complex, novel or higher value work from an earlier point in their careers. Junior lawyer may find themselves more involved in developing client relationships or concentrating on tasks adding real value to the legal work. Furthermore, some of the larger practices have begun to develop departments focusing on development and innovation with inter-disciplinary professionals, presenting unique leadership and project management opportunities for the junior lawyer.

1st Year Trainee Qasim Ali

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The Law Scot Foundation

For many young people in Scotland, entering the legal profession is seen as an unattainable ambition. In response to this, in 2016, the Law Society of Scotland established the Law Scot Foundation, a charity that helps academically talented students from less advantaged backgrounds achieve their ambition to become a lawyer. The programme supports these students through their legal education and offers much needed financial assistance, mentoring and other support.

A number of students receive a bursary each year to help pay for their law textbooks and rent, which allows them to devote more time to their studies. Charitable donations from law firms, individuals and other charitable groups & businesses have helped the foundation award these bursaries for the first two years of the student’s course. In addition to this, members of the profession volunteer to mentor students who can benefit from their support and guidance. The mentoring programme helps improve the students confidence, skills and knowledge of the legal sector.

This initiative encourages fair access to the profession and encourages social mobility which in turn improves the quality and diversity of the profession as a whole. Many young people face a number of social and financial barriers to entering the profession such as being made homeless at a young age, being in care or being a carer themselves. Some applicants describe how the challenges they faced during their childhood in the presence of family lawyers, social workers and the court system have inspired them to enter the legal profession. The Law Scot programme hopes to have a positive effect on both the young people involved and the profession as a whole.

The Law Society of Scotland reported that the response from the legal community has been positive and extremely supportive, showing that the profession is committed to ensuring fair access to all. I myself will be applying to become a mentor this year and look forward to helping support the next generation of young lawyers. In the not too distant future, we will hopefully begin to see the impact of this initiative on the profession.

 2nd Year Trainee Rachel Williamson 

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Government Accountability in the Wake of Brexit

Regardless of your political stance, it is undeniable that the debate surrounding Brexit has proven to be one of the most controversial conversations our country has had to have in quite some time.

Currently, under EU Law, the EU Commission as “Guardian of the Treaties” is able to hold Member States accountable if it has concerns over the country’s compliance with EU Law. The Commission can bring a Member State before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and, on breaches of EU limits of air and sea pollution, this bold move has been made in the past to bring our own Government into line.

On Exit Day, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (EUWA) will bring the supremacy of EU law to an end in the United Kingdom. One of the main functions of the Act will be to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which gives direct effect to EU law in the UK.

With grave concerns over the future of our planet, it is reassuring to learn that section 16 of EUWA calls for the introduction of Primary Legislation which sets out a series of environmental principles derived from EU standards.

Accompanying the new legislation will be policy statements which outline how the government chooses to apply and interpret these environmental principles.

The government is legally-bound to adhere to the policy statements – but, worryingly, not to the principles themselves. Proposals to introduce an independent environmental watchdog to supervise Government decision making offers a glimmer of hope, but appeals to the CJEU will become a thing of the past after Brexit.

1st Year Trainee Rebecca Lindsay

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The information contained in this newsletter is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of relevant law and practice as at June 2019. Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP cannot be held responsible for any action taken or not taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be taken on any individual matter. Transmissions to or from our email system and calls to or from our offices may be monitored and/or recorded for regulatory purposes. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 302 St Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5RZ. A limited liability partnership registered in Scotland, number SO 300336.