Sunday, July 15, 2007

Law Society of Scotland caught covering up consistently crooked lawyer

More From A Diary of Injustice in Scotland

Law Society of Scotland covers up history of crooked lawyer as new President indicates little change on pro lawyer anti client policies

Last week, the Law Society of Scotland gained a new President in the annual appointment of what is mostly an honorary position. This year sees John MacKinnon, a partner in Brown & McRae in Fraserburgh become the latest President of the Law Society.

So, all change then ? Not much of a chance of that it seems, from reading Mr MacKinnon's soft interview in the Scotsman earlier this week .. so soft, and so glowing, I wondered if Douglas Mill, the real power behind the Law Society of Scotland was lurking in the background, dictating terms on how the article should be worded ...

When reading Mr MacKinnon's interview, one should spare a moment to read the excellent Sunday Mail's exposure of corruption in the legal profession which has seen the Law Society cover up the details of a solicitor who the Sunday Mail exposed as being the subject of 21 complaints ! .. and there's probably more clients dissatisfied with solicitor John O'Donnell, based in Cathcart, Glasgow - who blames his behaviour on a "mental illness" between 2000 and 2002.

So the Law Society are allowing solicitors with mental illnesses to practice ? or is it just another of the good excuses generated to get crooked lawyers off the hook from complaints ? You can read the Sunday Mail exposure on solicitor John O'Donnell here :

EXCLUSIVE : LAWYER SUED FOR £1MILLION and I covered last year's Sunday Mail coverage of Mr O'Donnell here : Peter Cherbi comments on top Scottish Lawyer revealed by the Sunday Mail newspaper to be at centre of 12 Negligence Claims by clients

There are many O'Donnells in the Scottish legal profession though, helped on by the policy of the Law Society of Scotland as self regulator all these years to ensure complaints against lawyers are covered up and the consumer doesn't know the record of who & what their lawyer really is ... time to fix that one then Mr MacKinnon ? and bring in full regulatory disclosure on lawyers so that clients know who they are dealing with before they employ their services ?

If you don't do it, Mr MacKinnon, perhaps the new Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill should force the issue of regulatory disclosure ? in the public interest perhaps ?

Mr MacKinnon does come clean over two important issues in the largely sympathetic-to-lawyers article, those being the Law Society's attitude towards the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which comes into action next year as a result of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 .. and also, the Law Society's concern over the long needed break up of the legal profession's monopoly of the legal services market - which lawyers have used for years to arbitrarily decide who gets access to justice & who does not.

To quote the article directly :

"One of my main priorities is to ensure that, when the commission opens its doors in October 2008 or earlier, the profession is well-informed and educated about its workings and expectations, and are ready and able to deal with it," he says.

"My priority is that we set up standards. The standards already exist in the form of guidelines, so I think it's a question of defining those standards, so that not only the profession knows the standards that are expected of them but also the public."

That will be a change of resistance, threat & blackmail then, previously heard as policy statements from Douglas Mill, the Law Society Chief Executive, who even went so far to threaten the Parliament & Executive over the passage of the LPLA Bill ? How contradictory indeed !

I covered Douglas Mill's threat of legal action against the LPLA Bill here :

Law Society of Scotland threatens Court challenge against Scottish Executive over LPLA legal reform Bill

I would of course, have to take issue with Mr MacKinnon's comment on 'standards'.

What on earth makes anyone think or believe the Law Society of Scotland can set up standards now, when it hasn't been able to do so for the existence of it's lifetime to date ?

Haven't we seen rampant corruption in the legal profession for years ? complaints at all time high levels of up to 5000 complaints a year against less than 10,000 solicitors .. and that going on for nearly a decade ?

Indeed, the Law Society of Scotland has been performing it's self regulatory function admirably in terms of letting armies of crooked lawyers off the hook while the numbers of their financially ruined clients mount up over negligence, embezzlement, theft, mis-sold mortgages, bad investment deals, fiddled property transactions ... so Mr MacKinnon has a great task ahead of him indeed, if he thinks he will be able to "set up standards" in the legal profession now, after all those decades of lawyers being used to covering up for lawyers and avoiding to pay out any compensation to clients they ripped off to feather their own nests, buy big houses, a few extra cars and the rest of their family perks - all on the backs of poor unsuspecting clients who have been robbed blind by Scotland's legal profession over the years.

However, in another part of the rather soft interview, rather embarrassing to read in a newspaper one must admit as a 'news item' ... John MacKinnon reveals one of the main fears of the Law Society currently .. the fact that if the monopoly on legal services currently held by lawyers & advocates is broken up, they won't be able to regulate those people who are able to step into the shoes of lawyers, and perhaps offer the consumer a much greater choice in legal services, cheaper services (no more of the £100+VAT for 3 lines of text on a lawyers letter perhaps) - and more importantly, access to justice which has more often than not usually been access denied by lawyers & their legal profession who didn't want particular cases or people proceeding to court on particular issues .. such as of course, pursuing a crooked lawyer or even perhaps establishing a ruling in law on an issue which the legal profession did not want.

To quote Mr MacKinnon again from the article :

"What is being suggested is solicitors should be able to go into business with non-solicitors, and solicitors' firms could be owned and funded by non-solicitors," says MacKinnon. "My problem with this is I have still to see a method of regulation of that scenario. We can regulate solicitors, but who is going to regulate the non-solicitors?"

Indeed, Mr MacKinnon - who will regulate the non solicitors ? Not you or your colleagues I hope - or for sure, we will end up with another crooked self regulatory framework which will cause thousands of problems a year for the public just as your current self regulation of the legal profession has caused for decades.

What we really need, is a new fully independent regulatory system, to regulate the opened up legal services market in Scotland, and solicitors are not the best placed people to be doing that, as after all, they will be in direct competition to those new faces & companies allowed to represent people in the courts and handle legal work which has been the fiefdom of lawyers & advocates for so long ...

Lastly today, I manage a laugh at Donald Reid's rant in the Scotsman earlier this week, on his visit to Iona and that he came across a small museum there which happily stated there were "no lawyers" around in 1791. It must have been bliss then for the Iona Community ! - not to be troubled by legal sharks out to raid people for every penny.

Mr Reid, your understanding of how clients perceive or blame their lawyers for wrongdoing is completely out of touch with reality.

While as a member of the Scottish legal profession, you may hate my guts as one of the 'malcontent' clients, who successfully campaigned for changes in the law to help the public against crooked lawyers & self regulation, you should take off your LLB and walk among us to see & understand the financial ruin, lost property, hurt, pain, violence, even, abuse, your legal colleagues have inflicted on their victims, rather than spout the Law Society's professional doctrine, which has been consistently anti client, anti consumer, anti reform, and certainly lacking honesty, transparency & accountability for all these years.

To answer your "wee sermon" Mr Reid, quoting your "lighten up on lawyers and we'll listen more sympathetically. Right now, we are so used to being castigated for what we didn't do that we are tempted to fight back even when we ought to apologise and face our critics honestly. "

Mr Reid - lighten up on the public, and take a dose of honesty, transparency & accountability as a profession. Tackle your own problems as a profession, your own contradictions & claims of representing the public interest when you do anything but, and tackle the 17 year old regime at the Law Society of Scotland which has seen complaints figures explode, as well as the numbers of crooked lawyers getting away with their crimes, as the oh so common actions of Mr O'Donnell illustrates.

You want us to lighten up on you, after our colleagues, have hounded us, hunted us down, vilified us, intimidated us, obstructed, interdicted & ruined our lives ... how dare you ask that before confronting your own demons & actions which have led to our suffering as victims of the very people who claim to serve the law, but use it as nothing more than a business model for making money at the expense of honesty and life itself.

Look inside your own house before preaching to us, the victims of your crooked corrupt colleagues and the many more out there whose cases go buried by the Law Society of Scotland.

Articles from the Sunday Mail and Scotsman to follow :


3 June 2007
By Russell Findlay

A LAWYER finally faces action from legal watchdogs after compensation claims against him passed the £1million mark.

John O'Donnell is being probed by the Law Society of Scotland.

Since we first exposed him a year ago there have been nine new complaints - bringing the total to 21.

They include Frank Gallagher, who was injured at work in 1990. He only received compensation after lawyer Simon Di Rollo stepped in.QC Di Rollo has now complained to the Law Society about O'Donnell's delays and excuses.

Last year we revealed O'Donnell, 55, was the subject of 12 negligence claims.

New complaints since bring the total being claimed to just under £1.1million, with £446,000 paid out so far.

Gerald McLean accuses O'Donnell of bungling his injury claim.

He said: "I've fought him for 11 years and he has ledme up the garden path."

O'Donnell, based in Cathcart, Glasgow, has blamed his behaviour on mental illness between 2000 and 2002, when only a handful of claims were made.

His record of negligence is kept secret by the Law Society.

The most recent claim against O'Donnell is by mortgage giants Halifax who loaned his client Catherine Sweeney more than £100,000. But the lawyer failed to carry out the basic task of registering the loan against the property in Dingwall, Ross-shire.

When Sweeney then sold it, the money she was loaned by the Halifax was not returned to them.

Next year the independent Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will start handling complaints about lawyers.

Peter Cherbi of Injustice Scotland said: "Mr O'Donnell's record is astonishing. It's even worse that were it not for the Sunday Mail then the public would know nothing about it.

"It suits the Law Society to keep it under wraps.

"Clients won't be safe until they get full disclosure on their lawyers otherwise the O'Donnell effect will continue."

The Law Society refused to discuss complaints against O'Donnell.

Last night, O'Donnell said: "I had a breakdown five years ago. I was not aware there had been 21 claims."

and now the new Law Society of Scotland's President interview in the Scotsman ...

Standard-bearer voices concerns over key issues


IT IS beginning to seem that each new president of the Law Society of Scotland is faced with new and more intricate challenges than the last. While the dust may have settled on the recent battles fought by Caroline Flanagan and Ruthven Gemmell over regulation and complaints, it will be up to the new incumbent, John MacKinnon, to get to grips with the new order, and a new Scottish Executive.

Over the next 12 months, this quietly-spoken Skye-born solicitor will have to steer the society through profound changes in the way complaints about legal services are handled. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission may be operational as the new gateway as early as next spring, and the society has already been challenged by the commission's interim chief executive to set standards for the profession - or face having them imposed by the new commissioners.

The society is also keeping a watchful eye on developments at the Office for Fair Trading (OFT), which recently received a "super-complaint" from the consumer watchdog Which?, which has called for deregulation of the Scottish legal services market and an independent Scottish Legal Services Board to take regulation out of the hands of the society and the Faculty of Advocates.

MacKinnon is also taking over at a time when the biggest changes in legal education for a generation are likely to take place. At the same time, the society is reviewing its own structure, including the council and committees, to ensure it is providing members with a service that reflects the modern profession. Even the current location of the society is up for review.

Meanwhile however, its headquarters remains at Drumsheugh Gardens in Edinburgh, which MacKinnon will no doubt come to regard as his second home during frequent trips south from Fraserburgh over the next 12 months. Sitting in the society's library, he reflects on the challenges ahead, and cites the birth of the new commission as being at the top of his agenda.

"One of my main priorities is to ensure that, when the commission opens its doors in October 2008 or earlier, the profession is well-informed and educated about its workings and expectations, and are ready and able to deal with it," he says.

"My priority is that we set up standards. The standards already exist in the form of guidelines, so I think it's a question of defining those standards, so that not only the profession knows the standards that are expected of them but also the public."

When the commission may open as early as next April, MacKinnon knows there is limited time for the society to get up to speed. A working group is set to make recommendations at the next AGM in March.

This timescale may be tight if the commission does open early. MacKinnon hopes the commissioners, who are set to be appointed in the autumn, will recognise the importance of ensuring the profession and the public are up to speed before introducing the new gateway for service complaints.

"The commission is very important, and it is very important they get it right, and everything is in place," he says carefully. "On the other hand, I suppose there is uncertainty for the profession, and there is the uncertainty for the society's employees. If everything is in place earlier than October 2008, then I'd have no difficulty with that."

The society was vocal in its concerns about the proposals for the new commission, unveiled early last year. But now the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 has been passed, MacKinnon says the focus is to work with partners on the steering group tasked with setting up the new commission to ensure any concerns are addressed.

MacKinnon says the focus on the commission may have overshadowed the work done by the Research Working Group on the Legal Services Market in Scotland, which reported to the Executive last year.

The working group, which included the OFT, concluded that the "evidence probably pointed to a case for non-intervention, assuming that market forces would keep supply and demand in alignment".

Despite post-Clementi moves to open up the market in England, MacKinnon remains confident the group will conclude that the existing business structures for law firms are still the best option, despite the call for deregulation by Which? on the grounds that the current system is failing consumers.

"What is being suggested is solicitors should be able to go into business with non-solicitors, and solicitors' firms could be owned and funded by non-solicitors," says MacKinnon. "My problem with this is I have still to see a method of regulation of that scenario. We can regulate solicitors, but who is going to regulate the non-solicitors?"

But he adds he can appreciate why some firms may also want to see the market opened up. "Our difficulty is that, on the one hand, I can appreciate the concerns of the big firms who want to have a level playing field with their counterparts down in England. On the other hand, I have concern about the effect on the core values of independence and confidentiality.

"I have particular concerns for high-street practices. I have concern that the multinational providers of legal services will cherry-pick the most profitable areas of work and leave the rest to high street practices. That will not be to the benefit of the public."

As a partner with Brown & McRae in Fraserburgh, the future of small high-street firms and access to justice are issues that are understandably close to MacKinnon's heart.

While it is not unprecedented, it is still unusual for a solicitor from a rural firm to become president of the Law Society and, after 37 years in the North-East, MacKinnon's grassroots perspective of problems with rates of legal aid and recruitment and retention of lawyers will bring a fresh perspective to the helm.

"I am acutely aware of the difficulties of recruiting young solicitors and the situation certainly hasn't improved," he says. "Some firms in rural areas do have trainees and are able to keep them but quite a lot of them will say, we train them and then they leave.

"On the question of access to justice, I am very concerned about it, and I think the Scottish Executive should be as well.

"It's to do with legal aid, but also simply there being enough solicitors to provide legal services."

and finally - Donald Reid's opinion on why lawyers are hated so much - because they promote hatred themselves, Donald .. that's why ..

Weavers, millers,a wheelwright - 'but no lawyers'


I PAID a weekend visit to Iona last week, an annual pleasure for me. Each time I go there I wonder why I ever come back to the mainland.

But, at morning worship in the fine old Abbey church, we were exhorted by the preacher, on behalf of the Iona Community, to resist the wish to retreat into peace and tranquillity, but rather to "go back out" with the message of the Gospel.

This piece today is my response. A missionary lawyer - whatever next?

Close to the Abbey is a little museum of the island's history. I learned there that in 1791 an astonishing 3,002 people were living and working on Iona and the nearby Ross of Mull.

The exhibit stated that these included brogue makers, shoemakers, boat carpenters, a wheelwright, smiths, millers, merchants, weavers, tailors, houses for retailing spirits, two surgeons... "but no lawyers", it triumphantly concluded.

What, I wondered, caused the historian to conclude his narration of positive facts with that apparently gratuitous negative one?

Clearly, back in the 18th century lawyers were already getting a bad press (Shakespeare having a character wanting to "kill all the lawyers" much earlier).

Didn't they have estate agents, accountants or politicians back then, to share the hatred, as these lesser professions do today?

I accept we may bask in this a little as the princes of opprobrium, but not surely as the sole offenders.

I suspect the legal profession back then was associated closely, in the minds of ordinary folks, with privilege and oppression. Lawyers were the lackeys of lairds and landowners, who alone needed their services or could afford their fees.

Lawyers frequently served as estate factors and had the job of putting up rents and evicting defaulters. Indeed the same Iona museum contains an account of just such events in the 19th century.

Ordinary people did not own property and, when they died, their estates were too humble and non-contentious to be worth winding up in any formal way. Divorce was unheard of, and litigation entirely the preserve of the urban rich. For a community to be free of lawyers altogether was therefore indeed a cause for pride and boasting, or so it would seem.

What of today? The dislike of lawyers is still with us but the social reasons have changed completely. Prosperity is no longer the preserve of a small minority. Lawyers do serve ordinary folks, in their house transactions, wills and finances, family breakdowns and litigious confrontations.

So why is the anger still out there? Why are lawyer jokes the best and funniest of the genre?

My guess is that much of it has to do with shooting the messenger. When things go well, people tend to give credit to themselves.

When they go wrong, they look for someone else to blame: "You lost me that house"; "Why did you let my husband off the hook?" And so on...

There is a well-known legal case that I quote frequently when giving seminars. One day by chance I met the pursuer in that case and asked him about it. He vividly described the stress, uncertainty and expense and then summed up, eyes ablaze, in two words: "See lawyers..." I beat a retreat.

So here's my wee sermon: lighten up on lawyers and we'll listen more sympathetically. Right now, we are so used to being castigated for what we didn't do that we are tempted to fight back even when we ought to apologise and face our critics honestly.

More decency from clients. More humility from lawyers. The community spirit.

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