The Law Society has made a big song & dance this week about it's registration scheme for Paralegals, which is the result of 'agreements' reached between the Law Society and the Scottish Paralegals Association, inferring the scheme, which will effectively see the Law Society control and regulate paralegals, will be good for both the client and the legal profession at large.
While some may see the legal profession under the current rule of the Law Society may benefit from grabbing control of paralegals, if anything, the reverse is actually the case, where, as the Law Society has proved particularly through its recent history , it cannot effective manage any part of the profession, and adding the burden of administering, registering & regulating paralegals will do nothing to enhance either the Society's reputation or that of the profession at large.
Ostensibly, what is happening to paralegals, means that when clients have a problem with a paralegal, they will of course, have to take the matter up with the Law Society of Scotland, and as the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission doesn't seem to be equipped to deal with paralegals, the buck will stop with the troublesome Law Society of Scotland who historically have ensured client complaints go nowhere.
So, in short, Law Society of Scotland control over paralegals is a bad thing for clients .... as we all know from how the Law Society has mismanaged complaints against solicitors for the past thirty years plus.
Want an example of what could happen to a client complaint to the Law Society of Scotland against a paralegal ? Well, there are plenty examples on this blog and in the media of how the Law Society of Scotland treat complaints against lawyers .....
Neil Stevenson - who was appointed by the infamous Douglas Mill to head up 'strategic change' at the Law Society of Scotland, wrote this week in the Scotsman law page on the subject of Law Society control over paralegals :
"There is no doubt that paralegals already provide a valuable service within the legal market, but at the moment anyone can call themselves a paralegal. Introducing a registered status will mean that employers can be sure of the standards met by employees. It will also give paralegals the professional recognition they deserve. And clients will benefit from knowing that the paralegal, who they may have more direct contact with than a solicitor, has been assessed properly.
This development also represents continuing change at the Law Society of Scotland. An innovative regulatory approach has been developed to tackle the issue, and state-of-the-art IT will underpin compliance"
I would remind readers that Douglas Mill, the outgoing Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, is probably the one individual who has done the most damage to the Scots legal profession over the years, with policy failure after policy failure, leaving the profession with the highest levels of complaints, the highest levels of negligence cases, and the poorest level of public trust & respect for solicitors for decades ..... hardly a man who should have any lasting influence on things if the damage he and his kind have done, is to be repaired ?
"An innovative regulatory approach" from the Law Society of Scotland .. I wonder what on earth that could mean in the light of how they have handled regulation for all these years ?
Perhaps the Law Society of Scotland will simply lose the pretence of any honesty whatsoever and bin all complaints against paralegals as they are apparently doing at Drumsheugh Gardens in the run up to October 2008 when the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission takes over regulating service complaints and other issues relating to client complaints against Scottish solicitors.
What we are seeing in these moves by the Law Society over paralegals is simply a move to ensure it will control the legal profession from top to bottom, at every level, ensuring it will have influence & control over everything from the admissions process to control over rights of audience & representation, and of course, retain as much influence and control over access to justice itself.
As things stand, the Law Society will still be able to dictate and restrict the Scots public's choice of legal representatives in a continuing highly restrictive legal services market as indicated by last week's Law Society Alternative Business Structure proposals, and now the public are faced with an even greater danger in the quality & accountability of the present level of legal services on offer with the Law Society's annexing of the paralegals profession.
Unless the SNP Government or other political parties in the Scottish Parliament move forward with proposals to ensure the Scots legal services market is fully opened up to competition and freedom of choice, as recommended by the OFT and many consumer organisations, we will not see any increased quality, accountability or safety of legal services in Scotland.
So, over to less public choice and ever more regulatory failures as clients get a weaker, less safe legal service than ever in Scotland - where regulation of paralegals by the Law Society is definitely not good news for anyone except the Law Society control freaks and those who wish to further control the public's access to justice ..
The Scotsman article written by the Law Society Director of 'Strategic Change" :
By Neil Stevenson
WHAT will becoming a Law Society of Scotland registered paralegal actually mean?
The status is a badge of quality, indicating that the holder has met certain academic standards, has a certain amount of work experience and can carry out work to a prescribed standard.
We must emphasise that the exact arrangements are still under discussion, but having spoken to most of the concerned parties we have a clear idea of how the final proposal may look.
The Law Society is proud that this is a true partnership project, with the society and the Scottish Paralegal Association working closely to ensure that this new scheme brings benefits to everyone involved.
Paralegals who have attained a formal recognition under the scheme will be eligible to apply for entry to the register. A wide range of qualifications are likely to be considered relevant, from HNC/HNDs provided by Scotland’s colleges to provision from respected commercial providers such Central Law Training and Rewards Training.
We are also delighted to have worked with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to redevelop an HNC/HND in legal services, and are now moving to develop professional development awards in a variety of key areas of law. For the first time this will provide a qualifications framework for paralegals.
Paralegals will then need to undertake an assessed year in practice, supervised by a solicitor. Those already with office experience may be able to follow an accelerated route, with the emphasis on ensuring all those becoming registered meet the required standard.
Those achieving registration will be required to complete annual ongoing training and will have to uphold standards laid out in a code of conduct. A complaints process will be put in place, but the emphasis will be on upholding standards through a variety of regulatory approaches.
There is no doubt that paralegals already provide a valuable service within the legal market, but at the moment anyone can call themselves a paralegal. Introducing a registered status will mean that employers can be sure of the standards met by employees. It will also give paralegals the professional recognition they deserve. And clients will benefit from knowing that the paralegal, who they may have more direct contact with than a solicitor, has been assessed properly.
This development also represents continuing change at the Law Society of Scotland. An innovative regulatory approach has been developed to tackle the issue, and state-of-the-art IT will underpin compliance.
This is also a year when the Society’s own governance arrangements are being reviewed and are likely to significantly alter following the move to bring in more experience from outside the profession and streamline our management.
• Neil Stevenson is from the Law Society of Scotland.