Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Claims of Law Society fighting for 'core principles' of legal profession dismissed

In yet another update to previously featured previously featured and the long running debate in the Herald newspaper letters section on the rights & wrongs of the OFT's recommendations to open up the legal services market, an author suggests in the latest offering "Respect for the core principles of the legal profession and the proper administration of justice matters more to the general public than to the legal profession. The Law Society is right to fight for it."

Really ? We all thought the Law Society was righting for it's own interests, as it has always done ... even over the will of the membership from time to time ...

Monopolies are certainly proving difficult to let go ...

Herald item :

Law Society is right to fight for core principles of legal profession

The Law Society of Scotland seems to be accused of taking a Luddite view of changes to solicitors' professional rules proposed by the Office of Fair Trading to allow external ownership of law firms.

The protection of clients through obligatory Tables of Fees was removed several years ago so that fee levels could be arrived at through market forces. This change has been an essential factor in permitting the development of large firms and their increasing fee and profit levels.

Apparently, some large solicitors' firms wish to allow external ownership. They still have to explain how they can do this without compromising the independence which is essential to solicitors' ethics.

It remains unclear what benefits external ownership of large firms will bring to their clients or what the benefits to the consumer will be. Most of the large firms no longer act for consumers or non-business clients, no doubt for economic reasons.

At present, any company is entitled to offer most legal services to the general public provided that it does not pretend to be a firm of solicitors or advocates.

External ownership of law firms would mean that clients would no longer know if they were employing qualified solicitors bound to observe professional ethics.

Respect for the core principles of the legal profession and the proper administration of justice matters more to the general public than to the legal profession. The Law Society is right to fight for it.

Walter Semple, 126 West Regent Street, Glasgow.

Apparently based on his recollections of practising law some years ago, Callum MacDonald (Letters, August 14) denies there is any monopoly of Scots law.

He does, however, accept that the Law Society of Scotland exists to "represent the interests of solicitors", and also draws an interesting analogy with having his old car serviced. Any car more than three years old requires an MoT certificate, issued by the Department of Transport.

Regardless of where the mechanic carrying out the MoT test came from, or trained, the standards required are rigorously applied and monitored by a powerful external government agency. How unlike the Law Society of Scotland.

It is compulsory for a motor vehicle on the public highway to have third-party insurance cover. Unlike the arrangement for members between the Law Society and the provider of their "compulsory professional indemnity insurance" master policy, vehicle owners have a choice of insurers, who must, by law, openly compete for that business.

I expect Mr MacDonald will remember retail price maintenance, which was generally swept away many years ago, but corner shops survived. Indeed, they were hugely reinvigorated by predominantly Asian immigrants, who used hard work to overcome the many institutional barriers then existing for them.

Forty years of communism produced the Trabant to bring "motoring to the masses" in East Germany, whereas Henry Ford provided that two generations earlier in the western democracies with his Model T, and never sought to embed any monopoly. I can only access the courts in Scotland using a solicitor bound by the restrictive practices and alleged secretive arrangements of the Law Society of Scotland.

One definition of "monopoly" in my Chamber's Dictionary is "sole power, or privilege, of dealing in anything". Surely that is an apt description of how lawyers in Scotland currently have to operate. But the bigger question is, do we want a Trabant economy or an internationally competitive Smart Car one?

Bryan H Stuart, Pitmachie, Insch, Aberdeenshire.

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