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September 15, 2010

Legal services – that don’t cost the earth

When a community organisation needs to seek legal advice all too often it feels obliged to seek out one of the law firms with a heavyweight reputation and a fee structure to match.  Compared to other areas of expenditure, legal fees can seem excessive and disproportionate. Senscot Legal Services has just been launched as a counterweight to this. Another legal service that sits on ‘our side’, The Environmental Law Centre, invites LPL supporters to take part in a very short survey which will help them to improve their service

The Environmental Law Centre Scotland

The Environmental Law Centre Scotland is a charity that exists to provide legal help for people to help protect the environment. 
They are working to ensure that individuals and environmental organisations have the right to challenge decisions that will have a detrimental impact on the environment. They believe that neither lack of information and expertise, nor excessive costs should prohibit people from getting environmental justice.

Earlier this year, they were successful in gaining the first ever order, in Scotland, to cap the legal costs of an Ayrshire resident, who is challenging the decision to construct a new coal fired power station at Hunterston. Now they are making submissions to the Rules Council of the Court of Session to press for better access to justice for individuals and community groups. 
However in addition to helping people to challenge decisions, the law centre also want to know about the need for legal advice when communities are trying to bring about positive change in their environment and whether existing services are adequate for groups.
The aim of their research is to understand the barriers and challenges that community organisations or individuals may have found using legal services when establishing their sustainable development, environmental or community projects. They are carrying out a survey to help with this research and would like to invite people to complete it.
People can access the survey by clicking onto the link below.

As an added incentive they are holding an optional prize draw of a bottle of fair trade organic wine to those who complete the survey.

Senscot Legal Services

Senscot, since its launch in 1999, has played a lead role in the development of Scotland’s social enterprise community.  Our electronic bulletin, circulated to four thousand contacts, is the sector’s main connector – and we are directly engaged with regional and thematic Networks of front line social businesses.  Another Senscot activity is to conceive and incubate new mechanisms to continually develop our sector: new initiatives are identified in dialogue with social enterprise practitioners.

In September 2009, Senscot conducted a survey specifically to gauge member’s perceptions of mainstream professional legal services available to Scotland’s third sector.  Around 100 social enterprises responded.  From this survey, and other research, we found considerable dissatisfaction – in relation to two main themes: excessive fees and the lack of general understanding about the culture and practice of our sector.

Further investigation showed these problems to be linked – in that those firms large enough to support a dedicated third sector practice, also carry partners whose large salaries absorb around one third of all fee income.  Senscot believes that there is a market gap for a legal practice, itself a social enterprise, offering specialist knowledge of our sector at affordable rates.  The option of creating such a business is made possible by a proposed change in the law, expected later this year, whereby directorship of legal practices will become available to non lawyers.  In anticipation of this legislation, Senscot will create a subsidiary – Senscot Legal Services (SLS) – a new social enterprise.

SLS has four key objectives:
• To offer a wide range of quality legal services tailored for third sector organisations in Scotland.
• To create a specialist centre of legal expertise to support the development of the social enterprise movement in Scotland.
• To make quality legal services available across our sector, having regard to the ability to pay.
• To contribute to the long term sustainability of Senscot.

SLS is located in Bath St Glasgow with an initial staffing compliment of lead solicitor and paralegal secretary.  Our research indicates that our constituency purchases a wide range of legal services including: contracting, governance, company structure, employment, property, litigation etc.  Offering this range during the initial stage will involve a pool of ‘friendly’ solicitors with different specialisms.

It is intended that the service will evolve into a fully fledged legal practice should the
the alternative business structures (ABSs) in Scotland be introduced as proposed in the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill.