Law chiefs in Scotland want permission to regulate multi-national firms operating across the rest of the UK and beyond. 

The Law Society of Scotland is considering applying to the Legal Services Board to be an authorised regulator for cross-border practices – after seeing many of its biggest firms join with rivals from England and Wales. 

Over the past six years, a number of mergers and acquisitions have been completed between international firms and those based in Scotland: Pinsent Masons has combined with McGrigors, Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang joined with Dundas & Wilson and Dentons has merged with Maclay, Murray & Spens.  

But current legislation does not empower the Law Society of Scotland to regulate businesses in respect of their operations beyond Scotland, meaning that businesses have to submit to dual regulation, even if operating only within the UK. 

The Scottish society says is wants to reduce unnecessary compliance costs and increase competitiveness, but also position Scotland as a more attractive jurisdiction in which to locate and base a firm’s operations. If the change goes ahead, this would be the first time the oversight regulator, the Legal Services Board, has approved a regulator from outside England and Wales.  

Graham Matthews, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: 'There is a strong economic case for the Law Society being able to seek to become a regulator of legal services beyond Scotland, as having a single regulatory model for cross-border firms could make Scotland a more attractive jurisdiction for a firm to base its operations.’

The application for authorised regulator status is one aspect of a wider review of legal services regulation in Scotland, subject to a consultation closing at the end of this month. Scotland would retain restrictions over alternative business structures: firms in the country must be majority owned by solicitors and/or other regulated professionals, with a solicitor as head of legal. 

Other proposals include primary legislation providing for the Law Society of Scotland to open up membership to non-solicitors, a new system for dealing with complaints about solicitors, new protections for the term ‘lawyer’, and extending regulation for all providers of legal services.