Vicky Crichton: Regulation must be agile to react and keep pace in a climate of constant change

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionVicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
We all know the truth of Burns’ famous line that “the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley”.

Life sometimes throws us unexpected curveballs. That doesn’t mean that forward planning isn’t helpful and important, even when we know that we won’t always accurately predict the future.

It’s a challenge we’ve been grappling with at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) over the past few months as we develop our next four year strategy.

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Looking back over the past four years, we can see how changes like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can have major implications for the way we all do business. Scanning the horizon for the next big change is important. Building a resilient, agile organisation that can react positively to change when it occurs is vital.

Technology is one example – it’s easy to get excited about the opportunities that new technologies might bring for our work and for the wider legal sector, but predicting which of them will become part of standard practice over the next four years is a much tougher call to make. Digital onboarding, chatbots and automated contracts all have the potential to become common tools over the next few years.

What we can predict with confidence is that as the use of new technologies continues apace, the implications for consumer expectations, for ways of working, and for the need for regulation to manage emerging risks will be a key driver of our work.

The way we all shop for products and services has changed dramatically in recent years. We see consumer expectations continuing to evolve on issues like speed and transparency, as well as the action and redress they expect when something goes wrong. This has clear implications for how firms interact with clients and potential customers.

Our workplaces are also changing, with more of us looking for greater balance between our work and personal lives. For employers, the challenge is making that a reality for staff, while meeting business needs and maintaining great customer service.

Within the profession, we’ve seen shifts in the proportions of different types of lawyers. We may well see further changes within the market, including different business models or types of firm. These changes all have an impact on our work.

I’m not sure that anyone could have predicted the political shifts we’ve seen since we published our last strategy in 2016. With Scottish Parliament elections next year and constitutional debates continuing, political change now seems to be a constant.

This climate of change has been mirrored throughout the last four years, and will continue into the coming four in the debate on legal regulatory reform. Regulation needs to be agile to react to the environment, and the way services operate. It needs to keep pace with them as they shift and change.

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Delivering a regulatory model that is future-proofed for the changes we know are coming – and the ones we can’t yet see – is a major challenge, but one we must all rise to.

For the SLCC, looking back on the last four years, and into the future, has helped us to plan the next phase of our work. Now we want to hear from others about the priorities we’ve developed.

The SLCC will be consulting on its draft 2020-24 strategy and 2020-21 operating plan and budget later this month, and welcomes all comments and suggestions.

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission