Scottish lawyers vote against separate legal representation

Lawyers have voted against a proposed change in rules which would force housebuyers and mortgage lenders to have separate legal representation for mortgage transactions in Scotland.

A special general meeting was called yesterday by the Law Society of Scotland in which a majority voted to retain the current practice, which allows a one solicitor to act for a buyer and a lender. Scottish lawyers voted to consult on mandatory separate representation in March.

Proponents of the change argue separate representation eliminates the possibility of a conflict of interest. The LSS rules, as well as the Council’s own Lenders Handbook, already allow for separate representation where it is needed or where there is a conflict of interest.

However, yesterday 56 per cent of lawyers, or 847, voted against separate legal representation, while 671 voted in favour. There was one abstention.

LSS president Bruce Beveridge says: “There has been a mood change within the profession since the vote at the annual general meeting in March this year. The majority of solicitors at [the] meeting clearly believe that the current practice works for their clients, although there remains a significant number of solicitors who have concerns.”

Beveridge says more work will be done to ensure consumers are aware of the duties and responsibilities solicitors have for both them and their lender.

He says: “The responses to our consultation revealed the strength of feeling within the profession, whether for or against the proposed rule change, and have highlighted the sensitivities and complexities of such a proposed change.

“It remains the case that homebuyers are generally unaware that their solicitor also has to provide specific legal advice to the lender and we will have to consider what we should do to ensure that all clients are clear about the duties and responsibilities of solicitors to both the housebuyer and the lender.”

In August, the Council of Mortgage Lenders urged Scottish solicitors to reject the LSS’s proposal to enforce separate representation, arguing it is less costly and more time efficient for a solicitor to represent both the client and the lender.