Scotland's legal profession is anything but united these days, as I found this past week when a 'leading' solicitor from one of Scotland's big legal firms contacted me over the Law Society of Scotland's access to legal services consultation, alleging the exercise is simply a delaying tactic and an attempt to delay or kill off reforms recommended by the OFT.
You can read about the Law Society's 'consultation' on planned reforms to access to legal services here : Controlling the debate : Law Society issues consultation paper on legal services market reforms
You can download the 'consultation' paper from the Law Society's website in Acrobat pdf format HERE
I think we knew this all along ... but it was interesting to hear the same view come from one of the Law Society's own member solicitors, and one who is happy the monopoly of solicitors & advocates on access to legal services is to be broken.
The solicitor writes of his disgust at the way the Law Society is currently manipulating public opinion on the legal services reforms, organising newspaper articles which significantly bend the truth on how the public and legal profession will be affected by wider public access to legal services, and attempts made to influence Scottish politicians on this issue, whom the solicitor describes as "feeble minded", "easily led", and "lacking no understanding at all of the ruin the Law Society is causing the profession".
Well, it's good to hear that some agree with the wider more honest view of how the legal profession has conducted it's business and maintained it's control over the public's access to justice over the years ... I hope when the time comes, those who now feel they can speak out about such issues, speak out a little more and address issues of injustice caused by the legal profession against those who have fell victim to it.
Basically, the Law Society of Scotland are 'seeking views' on the impact of reforms to the legal services market, where until now, if anyone has needed to get to court, or use legal services, they have had to do so through a solicitor or advocate, there being no other option.
This monopoly has effectively allowed lawyers and the legal profession as a whole, to dictate who in Scotland has access to justice, and who does not.
If, for instance, you have a legal case which may be prejudicial to the interests of the legal profession, or perhaps another profession allied to lawyers, you may well find as others have, your case will never reach court, and you are simply messed around for sometimes, years, by your lawyer, only to face a significant account for fees with no real progress being made on your problem.
Many have went through this now standard procedure of 'justice restricted', where it seems in some cases, the Law Society have directly used the subject of an individual's legal grievance as a political bartering tool with whichever administration was in charge of Government, in what have been successful attempts to stall or kill off legislation which would affect the legal profession's exclusive money making model of 'if you need to use the law, or seek justice, you need a lawyer'.
People have been asking for the breaking up of lawyers monopoly on access to justice for years, as many found that when they took issue with poor service or standards of solicitors, they were shut out of access to legal services by solicitor after solicitor, and put on a 'client blacklist' maintained by the Law Society of Scotland, to ensure their critics, troublemakers, or those who may prove a danger to lawyers maintaining such monopolistic market practices, were kept away from the courts and even the help of their elected politicians.
It took a recent "supercomplaint" filed by the Which? consumer organisation, to move the Office of Fair Trading to investigate legal market practices in Scotland, which resulted in recommendations to open up the Scottish legal services market, and implement reforms along the lines of the Clementi recommendations for England & Wales, which some call "Tesco Law" as it will allow any firm to enter the legal services market and provide a host of services currently only provided by solicitors & advocates.
While the OFT have asked the SNP Scottish Government for responses by December 2007 on their plans to implement recommendations for wider access to justice, there seems to be a significant block at the Scottish Government to implement the reforms recommended from the Westminster based OFT, officially, on the grounds that Scotland's legal market is peculiarly different from England & Wales, but the truth of this resistance seems to lie more with the Law Society of Scotland, who are still determined to control access to justice and who gets to use a lawyer.
The planned responses, which I shall not admit to seeing for now, are at the moment still at the draft stage, messy and with civil servants saying one thing and Ministers wanting another. In fact, it is difficult to tell apart the views & wishes of the Law Society of Scotland and some currently in Government ... it's almost as if some Ministerial plans & responses have been written by the Law Society themselves, ever careful to maintain their view that if the public want to use the law in any way at all, they will have to pay through the nose and use a lawyer - or drop dead.
You can read more about the Law Society's 'consultation' here and if you feel it isn't too much a waste of time, you can download their questionnaire and give your views ... but if you do, remember to send a copy off to the OFT in London and ask for them to ensure their access to justice recommendations are implemented sooner rather than later, with a firm hand against anyone who may seek to derail what are after all, reforms of the legal services market which have significant public interest value.
Here are some previous articles on the OFT recommendations and access to legal services issues which relate to the 'consultation' being organised by the Law Society, and perhaps provide a more realistic view of things than the one of the legal profession.
On a final note, I just want to say something about comments & emails I received as a result of last week's article on Kenny MacAskill handing out praise and 1.8million of taxpayers money to the legal profession.
Some interesting points came up on the apparent change of attitude on legal aid by SNP Scottish Government Ministers as opposed to the previous Labour/LibDem Scottish Executive, with suggestions Ministers simply "rolled over" to the Law Society's demands for more criminal legal aid.
That may well be the case. I have nothing currently to suggest otherwise, but looking back over the previous year, there was a headline campaign by many local bar associations, albeit organised by the Law Society itself, to strike & boycott family law cases until more legal aid was handed out, because the previous Scottish Executive did not always simply cave in to the demands of the legal profession. It seems that now, all the Law Society needs to do is to ask the Scottish Government for what it wants, and it receives. Not so for victims of injustice though, as those in charge of the legal system currently drunk on power delight in the demise of a few thorns in their side ...
There were a few interesting threats received too, it seems from people who don't like anyone criticising the SNP, and particularly some who seem to want the SNP to protect crooked lawyers from independent regulation.
Well, if you don't like anyone criticising the SNP on justice issues, make sure the party attends to justice & injustice, and don't let the professions dictate public policy in the public interest. Another piece of advice might me not to ally yourselves with crooks ... it isn't very good for a political party's wider image, especially one which doesn't have much of a parliamentary majority.
Here is the Law Society of Scotland's Press Release on the 'consultation', which will no doubt see the same high levels of organised responses by the Society itself to ensure it's own view is put across ... as occurred in both previous inquiries by the Scottish Parliament into regulation of the legal profession ...
The Law Society of Scotland has today, Thursday, November 1, issued a consultation paper which could result in fundamental changes to how legal services are delivered in Scotland in the future.
The Society is looking for views from across the legal profession, politicians, consumer groups and others who have been involved in the debate on whether the rules governing law firms should be relaxed to allow the legal services market to be opened up to other providers, such as banks or supermarkets who are already gearing up to offer legal services to consumers in England and Wales.
Richard Henderson, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “This is one of the most important issues to arise in the history of the Scottish legal profession and could result in far reaching changes for the profession, the Society and the public.
“There is a growing demand for change both from within the profession and other interested parties, including consumers, and while we have embraced the need for change and have been active in driving this debate forwards, we cannot underestimate some of the challenges that must be addressed to do this.
“With any opening up of the legal services market, we need to ensure that members of the public can continue to access legal advice locally and that protections for the public, currently provided by a strongly regulated legal profession, remain in place. We also want to create an environment that will allow firms to compete in fast-growing Scottish, UK and international markets for legal services.
“There is a careful balancing act to be done and it’s important that the Society seeks the views of all those with an interest in order to develop its policy, which will be published next spring.”
Henderson stated that it was crucial for Scotland to develop its own solutions in response to the calls for change in the legal sector, while taking into account developments in England and Wales, as set out in the Legal Services Act.
He said: “Scotland is entirely different as a legal jurisdiction with a much smaller and more scattered population and this, among many other considerations, must also be taken into account.
“The results of this consultation will certainly bring about change and it is absolutely vital that we make the right decisions for the future. I would urge everyone with an interest to respond by 31 January next year.
“It’s clear that the legal profession is evolving faster than ever and the debate on alternative business structures is just part of a bigger picture. The Society is currently developing clear and enforceable standards of excellence across the profession for the benefit of both solicitors and their clients and is working on a new policy for the education and training of solicitors to ensure that the profession continues to modernise and further improve legal services in Scotland.”
A consultation on alternative business structures ‘The Public Interest: Delivering Scottish Legal Services’ can be viewed online at the Society’s website on http://www.lawscot.org.uk/Members_Information/members_information/
Notes to editors
The consultation The Public Interest: Delivering Scottish Legal Services closes on 31 January 2008. The Society will publish the results and proposals for change in spring 2008.
Private practice law firms in Scotland currently contribute around £1.2 billion to the national economy each year. There are approximately 10,500 Scottish solicitors, a quarter of whom work in-house, and 1,247 legal firms in Scotland, 46 percent of which are sole practitioner firms.
The Legal Services Act 2007 for England and Wales will allow lawyers and non-lawyers to set up in business together for the first time. It will also see a new Independent Office for Legal Complaints established alongside a new Legal Services Board which will act as a single independent regulator.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Val McEwan or Suzy Powell at the Law Society of Scotland corporate communications office on 0131 226 8884 / 0131 476 8115.