Saturday, January 12, 2008

Law Society 'can never change' as lawyers spin machine struggles to justify existence over catalogue of corruption

I have written more than enough articles on the woes of the Law Society of Scotland for readers to understand it has failed both its member base - solicitors, and even more importantly, the client base, and public.

Scarcely a week has gone by without some kind of legal scandal in Scotland, where a solicitor has ripped off or ruined a client, or multiple clients, and got away with it all because the Law Society of Scotland allowed them to, while making sure the poor ruined client got nothing.

So common a practice of lawyer ripping off client, and client getting nothing after a trek to the Law Society ... has become and so common a story to the newspapers, a news editor of one of Scotland's major newspapers last week in a phone call to me nicknamed the Law Society's office "The Shark Bowl", going on to say there were "too many politicians still in the pockets of the legal establishment who were preventing these continuing scandals from being put to bed." How true.

Nothing any of us who has had the bad luck to have to make a complaint against a lawyer didn't know already .. but nevertheless, heartening to know there are others 'on our side' who know the score ....

Well, last week, while I was writing my earlier story on the Master Policy insurance scheme of the Law Society of Scotland, one of the legal profession's hopeful entrants was writing about how the Law Society was, laughably but desperately trying to emerge as a "different organisation".

To get to this aim of being a "different organisation", the shadow of Douglas Mill rears itself once more, with the creation of yet another post, this time titled 'Head of Strategic Change' 'Director of Spin', taken up by Neil Stevenson, who will of course, be reporting directly to Douglas Mill.

Another rather sorry excuse from the Law Society, albeit paid for by the ever willing membership base of solicitors, who are seemingly only too happy to throw lots of money at Douglas Mill's self preserving policies ... for himself.

Oh .. and all these solicitors are seemingly only too happy to throw even more of their money (or clients money) at Douglas Mill while not even having a vote in what is actually going on inside the Law Society of Scotland ... and to think Mr Mill dared play the Zimbabwe 'dictatorship' card last year when trying to argue against the passage of the now passed Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 ...

So who gets to benefit from these 'strategic changes' at the Law Society ?

Well, not the public or client, that's for sure.

Its all to do with furthering the aims of the Law Society of Scotland, coming up with new ways to stifle pro consumer reforms, preventing the full opening of the legal services market to increase public choice in legal representation & service, and ensure ultimately the Law Society remains in charge of the legal market in Scotland.

In short, nothing good .. a talking shop if you like .. or even perhaps, just some 'window dressing' which a few political allies within the Scottish Parliament & Government can quote from time to time, insisting things are going to change, when we all know, they are not.

Surely if we have learned anything from the way the Law Society has failed solicitors & clients alike, it is that a separate independent organisation is needed to represent the public & users of the legal services industry.

The new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will do none of that - it is there simply to look at 'service complaints' against solicitors - and more to come on that next week ...

What the public and client need is an organisation, completely independent from lawyers, which will represent them and ensure there is a dedicated team of people able to help those who fall into the trap of poor unreliable untrustworthy and yes, crooked, legal services .. which for now certainly are more the norm than not in Scotland's legal services market.

The Law Society has done well out of corruption for years - made itself a good position in public life, given itself an extended power base particularly with regard to influence over public life, and political & financial decisions in Scotland which it does not deserve. The people within the Law Society are too used to these 'perks' of the job and will never give them up.

The Law Society, just as the leopard, will never truly change its spots. It will always be a club for lawyers to protect each other at the expense of the public.

The Scotsman reports :

'We can emerge as a different organisation'


IF THE turn of a new year is a time for looking ahead to new challenges, then Neil Stevenson has more change than most to grapple with.

In his new post as the Law Society of Scotland's head of strategic change, he will be trying to stay on top of all the big issues currently facing the profession – revamping education, standards and, of course, alternative business structures.

If that wasn't enough to keep his in-tray piled high with lever arch files filled with background reading, the society is also carrying out a governance review that could lead to significant changes in its internal structure.

This newly created post represents a promotion for Stevenson, who was previously the society's deputy director of education and training.

But when strategic management is usually the domain of a chief executive, why did the society need him to step up?

"You must have picked up on the level of change facing the society at the moment and the profession," Stevenson says. "There is a great list of projects I could rattle off – the highest profile ones are education, alternative business structures and standards in the profession.

"It was just felt that the society had traditionally had real areas of expertise but had not had many people working across all the departments, and so that's really what the role is about. It's trying to make sure all these projects are co-ordinated and that they stay on track within some overall framework."

In recent years, planning must have seemed something of a luxury for the society, which has found itself on the back foot over issues like complaints handling, the Legal Profession and Legal Bill and, thanks to the Which? super-complaint, alternative business structures. Stevenson acknowledges that the society has often had to be reactive and now needs to take a more proactive approach.

"So often when issues that the society is tackling get covered in the press and suddenly become very visible to practising members of the profession, it's because there's been some external driver," he says.

"But actually most of these areas are being worked on, and what these external drivers have done is make the work more noticeable, more visible and more under scrutiny. But it is not necessarily been why the society started off on a project."

While Stevenson will report direct to chief executive Douglas Mill and his deputy, Henry Robson, he stresses that he will be working closely with other senior staff members including his old boss, director of education and training Liz Campbell, director of professional practice, Bruce Ritchie, director of law reform, Michael Clancy, and director of regulation, Philip Yelland.

"It is really about me working with other senior colleagues," he says. "That is why I am so excited about getting the job, because instead of just working with Liz, which was fantastic, now I am getting to work with all my senior colleagues and get involved in all the big projects that are going on. They are still leading them – I am trying to make sure everything is co-ordinating together."

Stevenson, who studied law at Edinburgh University and previously worked for NHS Education for Scotland, has considerable experience in running major projects for the society, such as the research into women and the profession and the recently published profile of the profession. He has also played a significant role in the ongoing consultation into education and training.

While education underpins many issues facing the profession, particularly regarding standards, he says he has much to learn about the bigger picture, and what practising solicitors think.

"There is a certain amount of getting up to speed – I am regularly being passed lever arch files of reading at the moment," he laughs. "I am also trying to make sure I am aware of the profession's views on new areas. I spoke to them a lot over education issues, but I want to make sure I am aware of what people who are practising think, as well as where we are trying to take policy."

With so many pressing changes facing the society and the profession, it will be difficult for Stevenson to have a priority. However, the short-term agenda is likely to be dominated by the society's consultation on alternative business structures, which is due to end on 31 January.

"We are looking at how we analyse the results of that, and what might happen next," he says, adding that this is far from straightforward. "Alternative business structures are something that members of the public will have a view on and will want to have their say on, but they are also in some ways quite difficult to understand.

"There will be complex regulation and overlaps with Companies House and the Financial Services Authority and so on, whereas standards of service that solicitors should be delivering, almost everyone you spoke to would have a view on that."

On standards, Stevenson plans to set up focus groups in the spring to gauge what consumers expect from solicitors, before moving to a full public consultation later in the year.

Of less direct interest to the public – and possibly even many in the profession – will be ongoing work to look at the governance of the society itself. Stevenson believes that structural change could be fundamental to ensuring the society "delivers what people want", but he cautions that it won't necessarily mean the society can respond more swiftly in the future.

"Some of these areas are incredibly complicated and they do take time – what we want to avoid is having a quick reaction just to prove we can move quickly," he says. "We want to make sure that where it's about areas such as public protection, we really are looking into what all the implications are before just making a quick response because one group wants it.

"Having worked in the public sector before coming here, I think we can be faster than some of the areas I have worked in previously. Equally I know there are probably examples of where we have been a bit slower.

"One of things we are trying to do is make sure we get it right and things like involving the public do take time to do properly. In some ways it is very easy to rush out a quick document, give people a few weeks to reply and say that's consultation."

Ultimately, amid the myriad challenges facing the society, Stevenson sees opportunity: "If you look at alternative business structures, standards, education, the fact we are reviewing internal structures – there's actually a huge package of change in place.

"Over the next couple of years, we have an opportunity to emerge as a very different type of organisation. For me, that is what is should be all about."


Anonymous said...

if they are sticking this crap in the newspapers they are afraid.

keep up the good work mr cherbi.

Anonymous said...

hootsmon too boring tonight for comment but you are as sharp as ever I see

I think you have the law society worried ! Good !

digger said...

Who wrote the story in the Scotsman ? Douglas Mill or Jennifer Veitch ?
Why are the newspapers running lawyer propaganda when all these fuckers can do is rob everyone blind

Poirot said...

Hi Peter

Nice to see you are still keeping them on their toes and I definitely agree with the others you have them worried.

Stories about organisations attempting to jutsify their existence do not come lightly in the media unless there are problems.

I wonder if the author added "While Stevenson will report direct to chief executive Douglas Mill" because she was told to?

Peter Cherbi said...

The article in the Scotsman sounds a touch desperate from the Law Society, but most articles which praise crooked lawyers seem to sound a touch desperate.

The whole thing could be a ruse of course.The Law Society doesn't need to change as long as no one makes it change ... and as long as they have their people in positions to stifle reforms and changes in the public interest .. well, don't expect much unless there is such an outcry over cases things have to happen ...

Anonymous said...

Yes you are spot on Mr Cherbi.Another do-nothing post created by the Law Society at our expense.

A good example for both sides to be rid of it.

Anonymous said...

In between my sandwich & cup of tea I agree with you completely Mr Cherbi.
We would do well to be rid of the Law Society in its current format.Stevenson whom I know will do nothing more or less than has already been planned by Douglas Mill.
Good luck from a long time and long suffering solicitor !