Thursday, March 25, 2010

Law Society SGM no-vote washout : Legal Services should be treated like any other business as consumers demand wider access to justice

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland’s meeting washed out with no vote. It will come as little surprise to most that today’s Special General Meeting of the Law Society of Scotland, called by the Scottish Law Agents Society to vote on the Law Society’s own ‘alleged’ support for the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, turned out to be less of a confrontation, rather more the expected fudge predicted by many, as well as a complete washout in terms of furthering consumer’s wider choice & access to legal services in Scotland.

Rather than the imminent break up of the Law Society, hoped for by some in the legal profession (and many outside it), the adjourned SGM at Murrayfield ended up agreeing to seek more talks on ‘building a consensus’ between those opposed to & those in favour of the Legal Services Bill’s proposals of alternative business structures, where law firms will be allowed via the new legislation, to bring in outside capital investment, and possibly end up being owned by non-lawyers (obviously a horrifying prospect to lawyers !).

Ian SmartLaw Society President Ian Smart - ‘not possible to reach agreement’. It was reported that discussions took place during an extended break and when the meeting resumed, Society President Ian Smart announced that although it was not possible to reach agreement on the spot, both sides were willing to keep talking to see if an agreed position could be found and the meeting was adjourned, amid protests the adjournment would remove the voices of around 3,000 solicitors who had sent in proxy forms to enable them to vote on the original SLAS motion, which called for the Law Society to change its stance over supporting alternative business structures (abs) in the Legal Services Bill – a stance the SLAS believe threatens independence of the legal profession.

The feeling remains however, in all these headlines on the battles between the Law Society and various factions of the legal profession, consumers are being left as spectators of what really amounts to a lot of red herrings, lots of smoke & mirrors, diversions from the real arguments, the real fears, the real worries of solicitors, that once legal services are available in Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, or even, Lidl, law firms might find their clients are off to the supermarket for a quick shop along with a quick house purchase, or quick, cheap, advice session on how to handle a legal issue, instead of engaging a solicitor and going through endless appointments, endless letters, endless court appearances, endless fee demands, endless complaints, and well, no end in sight to the issue which brought them into their solicitor’s office in the first place …

Cutting costs, giving consumers wider choice & rights to access justice & legal services is obviously a good thing for consumers. If solicitors are keen to compete with others offering legal services, then reducing fees, vastly increasing success rates & vastly decreasing the time it takes to conduct clients cases, or litigation, might help attract customers back to law firms. Competition is good .. and it might even raise standards in the profession, which the Law Society seem not to be able to achieve on its own.

It should come as no surprise however, that desperate times provoke desperate arguments from the legal profession (or at least its governing body) to maintain a grip over control of access to legal services in Scotland, with recently the Law Society’s President, Ian Smart arguing that legal services, and access to them, should be treated as much more than a business, as I reported last week : “We have also maintained that consumers must be protected and that access to justice is a priority – legal services is not and cannot be seen as a purely commercial activity.”

On closer inspection, Mr Smith’s argument holds little support outside the Law Society’s sphere of influence.

“Consumers must be protected”. Speaking from the consumer’s point of view … Yes, consumers do need to be protected, from you & your colleagues, Mr Smart. However, only a fully independent regulator of legal services in Scotland can protect consumers from legal services, because the Law Society of Scotland and now the Law Society ‘ infected’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are just not up to the job.

“Access to justice is a priority”. No its not. It should be, but its not, not anyway while the current legal services model exists its not. Access to justice under the current system, where solicitors & law firms dominate the legal services market is only granted to clients or consumers if a solicitor thinks they have a chance of making money out of their case, not just because someone comes through the door of a solicitor’s office and claims their rights have been violated, or they need to take legal action to resolve a difficulty, injury, issue of negligence, or require to be helped in some other way.

Access to justice in all of those cases, and indeed any imaginable instance, is only a priority if the solicitor thinks so, and justification for taking the client’s issue further will inevitably be judged on a commercial basis. No chance of making money out of you ? Then the solicitor cannot or will not undertake the work. Not much of a priority of access to justice there …

“Legal Services is not and cannot be seen as a purely commercial activity”. Just why is that ? Do law firms offer legal services simply out of goodwill and without any regard to commercial factors and with no motive other than to serve the greater community at large, represent the interests of justice and fight vigorously for the rights of individuals ? Obviously not. Going to a lawyer and accessing legal services is (or at least should be) as commercial an activity as going to the post office to buy a stamp, or buying a train ticket and travelling from A to B.

Legal Services is a business, Mr Smart. Get over it.

However, until we hear the issue of consumer’s best interests being talked about in this debate, you can be sure the consumer & fee paying client, will always come last to the interests of the legal profession … leading to more concessions to the Law Society from the Scottish Government in the weeks to come as the Legal Services Bill travels through the Scottish Parliament.

Funnily enough, the Law Society will then claim it was their work which ‘won’ the even more yet-to-announced, well rehearsed ‘concessions’ from the Scottish Government, and thus maintain its existence to fight another day ….

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland - The story so far

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fair points.
I also believe legal services should be treated as a business which it is anyway.Ian Smart's arguments to the contrary are disingenuous and he knows it.

Anonymous said...

I was there.
You were mentioned (in private)

Anonymous said...

As ever you spout the consumer has rights and choice etc but wouldn't you accept the reason people go to lawyers is for their experience and good service ?
Surely you know some lawyers who do good for their clients ?

Anonymous said...

"...leading to more concessions to the Law Society from the Scottish Government in the weeks to come as the Legal Services Bill travels through the Scottish Parliament.

Funnily enough, the Law Society will then claim it was their work which ‘won’ the even more yet-to-announced, well rehearsed ‘concessions’ from the Scottish Government, and thus maintain its existence to fight another day"

Exactly,Peter.This has been their intention all along and the Scottish Government are happy to keep the Law Society in charge rather than having to deal with the regional associations.

Anonymous said...

You should have come along - the meeting could have done with some of your colourful input !

btw had to click twice to get this comment posted,is blogger down again ?

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 20.02

Experience & good service ? ... yes I know one legal firm that can manage that much for their clients ... however if you are referring to the profession at large, why fear competition ?

With legal services so poor in Scotland ... and lets face it, with a complaints rate of around 5000 a year against those in private practice, I think the profession, and consumers could do with some competition & choice ... don't you ?

Why force consumers to go to a law firm with a consistently poor client relations record when they could go somewhere with a cleaner slate and a governing body not so willing to cover up the bad apples ?

# Anonymous @ 21.11

Yes .. well its so obvious .. its the Law Society's tried & tested trick we always see in these affairs ...

Notice the lack of regard to the rights of clients who end up paying for all this though ...

# Anonymous @ 21.34

I wasn't invited .. anyway I understand it was an 'all cylon' affair ... toaster parties dont interest me !

Anonymous said...

Monopolies always breed corruption & abuse of consumer rights so lawyers are no different even though they like to think they are.

Good posting.

Anonymous said...

The bit I found funny was the 3000 solicitors complaining they didnt get heard due to Ian Smart adjourning the meeting.

You can really tell the end of the world is coming when lawyers start eating their own !

Anonymous said...

The real fears, the real worries of solicitors, that once legal services are available in Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, or even, Lidl, law firms might find their clients are off to the supermarket for a quick shop along with a quick house purchase, or quick, cheap, advice session on how to handle a legal issue, instead of engaging a solicitor and going through endless appointments, endless letters, endless court appearances, endless fee demands, endless complaints, and well, no end in sight to the issue which brought them into their solicitor’s office in the first place.

YES PETER THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE AFRAID OF AND THE FINANCIAL CLOUT THE SUPERMARKETS HAVE. WHEN PEOPLE WALK INTO A LAWYERS OFFICE THEY ARE VISITING SELF PROTECTING CRIMINALS, WHERE IF IT GOES WRONG THE LAW SOCIETY WILL DO WHAT IT DOES BEST, COVER UP. OVER THE YEARS THE LAW SOCIETY HAVE BEEN THE ENEMY OF ALL CLIENTS AND NOW THEIR MEMBERSHIP. LAWYERS DO NOT NEED TO GIVE A S**T ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE SERVICE THEY PROVIDE, BECAUSE SMART AND CO WILL WRAP THEM IN COTTON WOOL, LEAVE THE CLIENT RUINED AND ALLOW THE LAWYER TO KEEP WORKING. JUSTICE, CHRIST THESE LEGAL PEOPLE NEED PSYCHIATRIC HELP, THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT JUSTICE IS.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

As ever you spout the consumer has rights and choice etc but wouldn't you accept the reason people go to lawyers is for their experience and good service ?
Surely you know some lawyers who do good for their clients ?

25 March 2010 20:02

NAME ONE !

Anonymous said...

LATEST LISTINGS OF SOLICITORS FROM HELL. THEY ARE ALL FROM HELL, NEVER TRUST A SOLICITOR. SELF REGULATION ALLOWS THEM TO TREAT YOU LIKE S**T.

# Robinson Allfree Solicitors (54 hits)
# Heer Manak Solictors (50 hits)
# Cape Hill Solicitors (38 hits)
# Cornish Venning Solicitors (CVS) (72 hits)
# Brown and Corbishley Solicitors (66 hits)
# GOLDBERGS Solicitors (95 hits)
# Cuttle and Co Solicitors (106 hits)
# Glanvilles Solicitors (83 hits)
# Freeth Cartwright LLP (104 hits)
# Theodoros M. Ioannides & Co LLC (103 hits)
# GQS Solicitors (96 hits)
# Syeds Solicitors (116 hits)
# Irwin Mitchell LLP (304 hits)
# Thring Townsend Lee & Pembertons (140 hits)
# Anderson Shaw and Gilbert (273 hits)
# MATTHEW FARRELL & WIER (146 hits)
# M.M. Byrne Solicitor (143 hits)
# Pauline Reynolds Solicitors & Co (628 hits)
# Alsters Kelley Solicitors (156 hits)
# Law Connect Solicitor (168 hits)
# Ambrose Appelbe Solicitors (192 hits)
# Birketts LLP (228 hits)
# HA Underwood Solicitors (110 hits)
# Goldbergs Solicitors (183 hits)
# Ratcliffe Solicitors (134 hits)
# BAKERS SOLICITORS (139 hits)
# Fallows & Co. Solicitors (166 hits)
# Burtoncopeland (385 hits)
# Fountain Solicitors (169 hits)
# SA LAW CHAMBERS Solicitors (264 hits)
# Fountain Solicitors (162 hits)
# Mann & Co Solicitors (282 hits)
# Tilly Bailey Irvine (TBI) (278 hits)
# Fountain Solicitors (175 hits)
# Cree Godfrey and Wood Solicitors (201 hits)
# Alison Herbert & Co Solicitors (192 hits)
# H Thompsons & Sons Solicitors (190 hits)
# Pictons Solicitors LLP (347 hits)
# Irwin Mitchell Solicitors (711 hits)
# University of Leeds Legal Advisor (328 hits)
# Ezzeddine Ben Amor (196 hits)
# AP LAW (272 hits)
# Breytenbachs Solicitors (211 hits)
# Chambers Solicitors (257 hits)
# Jansons Solicitors (227 hits)
# Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice LLP (722 hits)
# Ross Harper Solicitors (279 hits)
# Duncan & Lewis and Co. Solicitors (333 hits)
# Simon J Murphy Solicitors (196 hits)
# John Delaney & Co. Solicitors (590 hits)

Anonymous said...

He added: "(Ian Smart] has been responsible for an undemocratic and unfair voting process. I believe that our president should go, and go quickly."

Mr Dially, undemocratic, unfair, two words you do not understand. Where is fairness handed out to victims of your corrupt profession. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Morrisons will chew your little law practice up. As a layperson I look to the day I can ask for legal advice when purchasing food etc. Govan Law Centre will be extinct. It is funny how you are upset because of this, what about Penman, you could have helped Peter Cherbi, but clients are just money to you, and your crooked colleagues. Self regulation stinks, it protects professions in such a way they can do as they please. Democratic Mr Dially, legal totalitarianism, nothing democratic about it.

Lawyers scream about their rights when incomes are threatened. I never hear any of you complaining about ruined clients, but they are only profit.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your story so far on the Legal Services Bill with great interest Mr Cherbi.
I conclude Scotland is not a fit place to do business with attorneys.Pity your fellow Scots for having to put up with these self serving hoods.

Good luck for your campaign.

Anonymous said...

Good to see the legal profession at each others throats for once!

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in the following :
http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/letters/Law-reforms.6182608.jp

Law reforms
Published Date: 26 March 2010

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has consistently encouraged the lifting of restrictions on alternative business structures so that providers of legal services who wish to do so can introduce new business models that most efficiently meet their customers' needs.

Having been closely involved in the steps towards a new regulatory regime, the OFT is aware of widespread interest among Scottish legal professionals in being given more scope to innovate and to deliver competitive services (Letters, 22 March). The opportunities that will be opened up to those who choose new models will, we believe, improve access to justice through more choice, higher quality services and lower costs.

Essential to the arrangements for alternative business structures will be a robust regulatory regime, underpinned by clear principles, which provides for transparency and accountability. We have welcomed the proposals for such a regime put before the Scottish Parliament and consider these will provide for significant positive advances in professional legal services.

In the debate much has been made of the need to safeguard the independence of the legal profession. It is necessary also to safeguard and promote the interests of users of legal services and we have urged the formal inclusion of an advisory panel to bring the consumer interest to the heart of the regime.

A balanced set of measures with strong protections built in will serve justice, consumers and the profession well.

KYLA BRAND

Representative in Scotland

Office of Fair Trading

Anonymous said...

Very good.All those 'consumers' praying for open legal services will be crawling back to their High Street lawyers when the new boys drop their shiny new toys after becoming bored.
Where will you all be then ?
Without a lawyer thats where.

Anonymous said...

Criminals fighting over money thats all it is!

Anonymous said...

I wasn't invited .. anyway I understand it was an 'all cylon' affair ... toaster parties dont interest me !

LMAO !!!!

Anonymous said...

In 2004 and 2005 The Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman in her annual report to the Scottish Executive, voiced her concern that many people could not get a Solicitor to act for them, in some cases when these people had money, she asked the Government to look into the matter and take urgent action to address this issue, the Law Society of Scotland known about this problem also, but both the Scottish Government and the Law Society refuse to take any action to address the problem. The Law Society of Scotland keep telling us how it needs to protect the Public. WELL WHAT IS IT DOING TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE IN SCOTLAND HAS ACCESS TO JUSTICE AND A SOLICITOR WHO IS HONEST, COMPETENT AND WILL TAKE ON THEIR LEGAL MATTERS, AND WILL HELP THEM, EVEN IF THEY ARE ON LEGAL AID.
Many people in Scotland cannot find a Solicitor that will submit a Legal Aid Application Form to SLAB on the behalf of a client, so again where is the Law Society of Scotland in this matter.
Try finding a Solicitor in Scotland to sue another Solicitor for anything, the Law Society will not allow a Solicitor to sue another Solicitor, this is to protect the Law Society Master Policy with Brokers Marsh UK.
Both Labour and the SNP Government refuse to address the Legal Services Ombudsman's reports to the Scottish Government about this very serious issue, six years after the problem was first highlighted to them. WHY. Because the Law Society is involved with Solicitors and the courts in stealing Property and assets from the people of Scotland, and will not allow any of its members to intervene and help the victims and put an end to the fraud by Solicitors and the courts. or from exposing this massive theft and fraud on the Scottish people. The wholesale theft of property and assets in Scotland perpetrated and covered up by the same Law Society of Scotland that keeps on telling us it is protecting the public. The Law Society is trying to be poacher and gamekeeper and it is no good at either of them, a conflict of interest, and our Labour and SNP governments full of Lawyers turn a blind eye to the very serious problem.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Very good.All those 'consumers' praying for open legal services will be crawling back to their High Street lawyers when the new boys drop their shiny new toys after becoming bored.

Where will you all be then ?
Without a lawyer thats where.
26 March 2010 13:23
===================================
PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND, THE LAWYER WHO LEFT THE ABOVE STATEMENT IS AN IDIOT.

IF A LAWYER RUINES YOU, NO OTHER LAWYER WILL HELP YOU. LET US SAY YOUR LAWYER HAS RUINED YOU, AND YOU GO TO ANY LAW FIRM IN SCOTLAND FOR HELP. ALL SCOTTISH LAWYERS ARE INSURED BY ROYAL SUN ALLIANCE THROUGH THE CORRUPT LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND'S MASTER POLICY. ALL LAWYERS HAVE RECIPROCAL BONDS OF LOYALTY AND TRUST. A LAWYER WILL NOT EXPOSE YOUR ORIGINAL CROOKED LAWYER FOR YOU. EVEN IF HE OR SHE DID THEY WOULD BE HURTING THEIR OWN INSURERS.

IT IS THE SAME AT WORK. SAY YOU GET RSI AND DECIDE TO SUE. ALL LAWYERS, DOCTORS INCLUDING YOUR GP AND YOUR EMPLOYER ARE INSURED BY ROYAL SUN ALLIANCE. YOUR INJURIES WILL BE COVERED UP FROM THE DAY YOU SIGN LEGAL AID FORMS BECAUSE YOUR LAWYERS AND DOCTORS INSURERS WOULD BE PAYING YOUR DAMAGES.

EMPLOYERS DO NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT HEALTH & SAFETY AT WORK UNLESS YOUR INJURIES ARE VISIBLE.