The current legal aid system is not working.

It is not working for those who need legal advice. And it not working for those providing legal advice. The time is right to rethink the system as a whole.

That is why the Law Society of Scotland's has published 'Legal Assistance in Scotland: Fit for the 21st Century'.

This discussion paper asks professionals to consider what changes could be made to create a simpler, more efficient and ultimately more cost effective system.

Because it's our view that the current legal assistance system is overly complex, inefficient, outdated and under-funded.

We don't believe we can keep our heads in the sand. Whether we like it or not, the economic climate remains challenging and budgets continue to face increasing pressure and scrutiny.

We are fortunate in Scotland to have a legal aid system which is demand-led and not cash-limited.

However, the Scottish Government is committed to implementing reforms which aim to reduce legal aid expenditure to meet their budget.

In 2013-14, the Government budget allocation was £138 million. The actual spend for the year was £150 million.

Even if we believe that the original budget was unrealistic, it still meant that funds which had been allocated to other public services had to be redirected to cover legal aid costs.

The drive to reduce expenditure is against a background of real term decline in legal aid funding over the last two decades, despite widespread commitment to access to justice.

We fear that without significant changes, solicitors will find it increasingly difficult to provide important services and remain economically viable.

This in turn raises concern about the future of the whole legal assistance system if we see fewer solicitors who can do this type of work.

We believe that additional funding should be allocated to the legal aid sector. Efficiency savings should be reinvested to ensure legal aid remains a key element of access to justice.

Our discussion paper includes a wide range of ideas for change to both the current criminal and civil legal assistance systems.

Ideas for consideration include streamlining and simplifying the process, removing the distinction between different types of legal assistance and creating a single entry point to assess eligibility.

It also looks at alternative funding options for civil legal aid, including government loans for legal services and funding to allow better use of law centres and the third sector.

We also suggest reducing the upper eligibility limit for civil cases so expenditure can be targeted to areas that need it most.

And we ask whether legal aid should be available for all types of civil case work, taking into account current levels, and whether certain services are best provided by the traditional firm structure, or if we could be making better use of the specialisms found in law centres and other advice organisations.

In looking at criminal legal aid, the paper considers block fees for police station work, funding structures for appeals, a new eligibility criteria given the changes to welfare and having a fee structure designed to encourage early resolution of cases.

We are very keen to get more feedback. The consultation on the discussion paper closes on 30 January.