Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Legal profession claims there is no monopoly on legal services in Scotland

In an update to our previous feature on some of the letters in the Herald newspaper regarding the OFT's proposed access to legal services reforms, members of the legal profession update the stance to claim that no such monopoly exists with regard to legal services in Scotland.

A case of one believing one's own professional propaganda perhaps ? We here at SLR don't think the public will swallow that one at all ...

Further letters to the Herald on the debate into access to legal services follow :

Provision of legal services is already an open market and far from being a monopoly

I have to take issue with the letters published (August 10) relating to the alleged monopoly in Scots law. There is no such monopoly.

The Law Society of Scotland exists as trade body/union to represent the interests of solicitors in general and to ensure that those practising law are qualified to do so by virtue of qualification or exam. In addition, it deals with disciplinary and complaint issues, compulsory continuing professional development and, perhaps most importantly for consumer protection, compulsory professional indemnity insurance. In short, I have to be a member of this body to practise law. However, this is not a monopoly.

If, for example, my old car needs a service, as a consumer I can look in my Yellow Pages and pick from any number of garages to do the work for me. If I am in an accident while driving my car and suffer personal injury, similarly I can look to a solicitor to resolve any claim or legal issues that may arise.

A quick look at the Glasgow South Yellow Pages today gave me a choice of 40 pages of solicitors listed that could potentially help me. How is this a monopoly? Saying solicitors have a monopoly on legal work is like saying garages have a monopoly on servicing cars or that double-glazing companies have a monopoly on supplying double glazing.

I think that Nick Stace of Which?, like others, has chosen to extend the argument relating to self-regulation on complaint matters into another field when it is not to the benefit of the consumer to do so. He may well think it is a good idea to have legal services provided at all sorts of venues such as coffee shops or travel agents, but is that really in the public interest? Surely those supplying these services will have to be similarly qualified, regulated and insured as solicitors, or there will be a great loss of protection to the public.

Can I also state for the record that any organisation looking to offer such services will very quickly realise that this is an area they would best stay away from owing to the nature of the work and likelihood of very little profitable return. Several years ago the government thought it should break the "conveyancing monopoly" and created the Conveyancing and Executries Board to oversee those "non-solicitors" who wanted to deal in this type of work. I challenge Mr Stace to find a non-solicitor dealing with this type of work in Scotland under this set-up. The reason none exists is as stated: people would not touch this type of work with a barge pole owing to the nature of the work and profit margins.

Furthermore, how can there be a monopoly when the public has such a large choice of solicitors to consult? The reason this government initiative failed was due to the misconception that a conveyancing monopoly existed, and other such initiatives are similarly doomed to failure.

Finally, the letter from Bryan Stuart suggests that any member of the public who wishes to take action against another solicitor will be left without representation. This is nonsense. Solicitors do make mistakes and other solicitors are more than ready to represent those with a legitimate claim. Although it is some years since I practised law, I recall on at least three occasions recovering substantial sums of money for clients from their former solicitors as a result of the former solicitors' negligence.

Callum MacDonald, 30 Aytoun Road, Glasgow.

I refer to Austin Lafferty's letter (August 9) and agree with his view that most of us, when consulting a lawyer - whether it be to buy or sell a house, deal with an executry, get a divorce or make an accident claim - go to "high street" firms, and it is those firms that make up the majority of the legal profession in Scotland and hold membership of the Law Society of Scotland and which must act in their best interests.

That said, the corporate firms move in different circles and have different concerns and, therefore, require to be treated as a separate entity albeit they are also Law Society members and, as such, are entitled to expect its support.

However, his comment that you expect your legal work to be handled by a "bod" whose credentials and training are recognised as first-class applies to both high street and corporate firms. Since the reality is that there are now approximately 10,000 paralegals working in Scotland, both in private practice and in-house legal teams, and paralegals, not solicitors, now deal with the majority of the day-to-day legal work in these firms, we trust that the relevant parties will look favourably on our current proposals for regulation of paralegals to ensure this is the case.

Christine Lambie, President, Scottish Paralegal Association, 81 Kirkwall Avenue, Blantyre.

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