As people ponder the future of the Law Society of Scotland, amid it's consistent failure to address the worst problems of the Scots legal profession, thoughts turn to what will replace it and how solicitors & the public can get together again in a more trustworthy & dependable relationship not seem for many years ...
There is no doubt that solicitors & clients alike, can do without the Law Society of Scotland - the current state of Scotland's legal services market, the general disrespect and lack of trust the public afford the legal profession, and the numerous scandals which consistently rock Scotland's legal system and solicitor base, are evidence enough.
What good has the Law Society of Scotland done for solicitors over the years ?
Well, the Law Society would claim it has raised standards of service & conduct within the legal profession. However, with five thousand plus complaints a year made against less than ten thousand solicitors in Scotland, many of those complaints relating to serious frauds, poor service & conduct, even embezzlement, fakery, corrupt schemes to swindle clients out of even their property, there can be no doubt that standards of service & conduct are at an all time low.
What good has the Law Society of Scotland done for clients & the public over the years ?
The answer to that one of course, is none - no good at all.
The Law Society of Scotland, particularly it's current leadership under the likes of Chief Executive Douglas Mill, has concentrated fully on protecting solicitors from client complaints, ensuring when issues of serious complaints arise, the client loses out each time, while the solicitor goes on practicing.
Take for instance, a complaint where a solicitor had falsified a house & land sale - the client provided all kinds of evidence, even letters which fell into his possession from his own solicitor to a bidder on the property in question .. .scheming a deal so the solicitor & bidder would successfully gain a three million pound property for one tenth of its value, as the solicitor was holding his client for so long in the property sale, the client would go insolvent. The complaint went nowhere, the solicitor still practices, still has three houses of his own, still swindles clients, and hasn't a care in the world.
The client who made the complaint - He received no compensation even through he tried to pursue the case through the court. His new solicitors who took on the case trying to recover damages for theft & negligence worked against their client all the time, acted on instructions from the Law Society to delay the case and ruin it so there would be no settlement - which is in fact what happened. The client & his family lost their home, their lives were destroyed, and he now has cancer.
A situation repeated time & again, in the world of complaints against solicitors in Scotland. If you use a lawyer, the very same could happen to you just as easily, and there is nothing you will be able to do about it while the Law Society of Scotland exists.
If you want to read some more horrors of how the Law Society of Scotland have treated clients and stage managed legal services & access to justice in Scotland, here are a few links from previous posts :
Good list, isn't it ... and there's lots more of course ... what appears above is only the tip of the Law Society's iceberg.
In this Monday's Law Section of the Scotsman, Jennifer Veitch wrote a piece entitled "Law Society must put house in order"
Nothing more than the usual line from Drumsheugh Gardens though, no room for substantive debate, and a distinct lack of reporting on how the Law Society notably achieved some amendments to the much feared & bitterly debated Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007.
"The previous 12 months were dominated by the bitter debate over the Legal Profession and Legal Aid Bill, and its proposals for a Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
When the Bill was finally passed last December, some of the sting was removed, with lawyers having the right of appeal against the commission's decisions. But if the Law Society's head honchos had known what 2007 had in store then they might not have seemed quite so cheery at the end of 2006."
Yes, indeed it was a bitter debate, with the dirty tricks brigade from the Law Society on duty seemingly 24 hours a day to threaten anyone who would put forward evidence to the Parliament on the inadequacies of the Law Society of Scotland and it's solicitor membership ..
The dirty tricks from the Law Society of Scotland fell out of control, with public skirmishes in front of the Justice 2 Committee between John Swinney & Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill over secret memos which clearly showed deliberate corruption & intervention in client claims against overtly corrupt solicitors.
Would [Douglas Mill's] granny swear by the Law Society ?
As the LPLA Bill debate progressed, and the Law Society of Scotland feared losing control of complaints and client claims, an English LibDem Peer, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC was drafted in to write the bizarre legal opinion that "it would breach the human rights of lawyers to allow anyone else except a colleague to consider & investigate complaints against themselves."
Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill, then used the Lord Lester opinion to threaten legal action against the Scottish Parliament & Executive if certain amendments agreeable to the Law Society were not put into the LPLA Bill.
Holyrood in solicitors' sights
Ms Veitch's version of that differs slightly from the reality of the legal threat, in that she simply does not mention it. Good stuff ... wholesome incomplete reporting seeking to misinform the public, and you can see a further example of such reporting here :
A lawyer's never loved in his own home land
Despite what some feel, if the Scottish Parliament & Executive changed legislation or amended it because of a legal threat from a profession with a vested financial interest in keeping such legislation restricted in its effect ... that is a big story. Big enough to be of significant public interest .... but not even a mention, as I'm sure if there was, Mr Mill would have been straight on the phone to have it removed.
The SNP Government are currently being attacked over a meeting between Alex Salmond and Donald Trump, over the calling in of Mr Trump's golfing development in the North East, as of course, Mr Trump has a vested interest in the proposals going through, and it does appear to some, that planning rules have been tossed aside in this matter, indicating a slight 'bending of the rules' to get the development through.
Well, if attacking the SNP over such a matter is good enough for the national press, then perhaps attacking the Law Society of Scotland Chief Executive's legal threat to Parliament & Government to bend & change rules or meet him in court, is just as significant a story ... and this is still a story, because as you may have guessed it, the dirty tricks brigade of the Law Society are at it again over the access to legal services debate, which you can read more about here :
So, what the Law Society of Scotland has to do is not put its house in order.The time for that is over.
The Law Society of Scotland, has shown, it cannot change. It is too inflexible, too used to making threats to get it's own way, too used to delay to ensure nothing changes, too used to using dirty tricks to take out critics, opponents, and any client who may be a thorn in it's side, and too used to prejudice, protection of the guilty, and too used to having undue influence over public life.
The Law Society of Scotland should rather, jump off a cliff into extinction, and allow both solicitors & clients to get on with managing a relationship between the legal profession & public based on trust, accountability, transparency, and yes, even friendship.
If solicitors wish a representative body for their industry - yes by all means form one. Form one that gives you, each solicitor, a VOTE, in everything your new representative body will do for you. Make sure though, your shiny new representative body for the legal profession doesn't end up with the likes of the Law Society's current dictatorial leadership hell bent on protecting it's own political influence & power base, which has done exponential damage to the legal profession as a whole more than anything in history.
If the public wish a representative body for legal services, and by all means I would heartily advise it, ensure that such a body exclusively represents your interests as the client, has adequate powers to protect clients interests, ensure issues be tackled & publicised, and is able to ensure that complaints be dealt with properly, fairly, and with compassion.
We don't need the Law Society and it's dirty bag of dirty tricks any longer - it's time for a change - a change for solicitors & the public alike, a change for the better, a positive change for Scotland.
THIS time last year, the legal profession - or at least those concerned with plotting its direction - appeared to breath a collective sigh of relief. The previous 12 months were dominated by the bitter debate over the Legal Profession and Legal Aid Bill, and its proposals for a Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
When the Bill was finally passed last December, some of the sting was removed, with lawyers having the right of appeal against the commission's decisions. But if the Law Society's head honchos had known what 2007 had in store then they might not have seemed quite so cheery at the end of 2006.
Thanks to the curveball of the Which? super-complaint to the OFT, this year has been dominated by an accelerated debate on the dreaded alternative business structure. Of course, everyone in the profession has been prattling on about Clementi for so long without similar proposals being seriously mooted for Scotland that perhaps the Law Society could have been forgiven for being lulled into believing it could escape the march of Tesco law.
To be fair, when the Research Working Group on the Legal Services Market in Scotland reported in April 2006, it recommended against intervention. But, after Which? forced the issue, the OFT turned its attentions to the Scottish marketplace, and soon the profession was presented with a list of recommendations for reform, just in time for the Law Society's conference on ABSs.
To say there was no shortage of opinions aired at September's debate would be putting it mildly. Lawyers from across Scotland offered the society plenty of food for thought about the impact of ABSs on legal services and particularly with regard to access to justice. The profession appeared divided into two camps: broadly speaking, there were those who make money, and want to stay competitive in order to keep doing so; and those who are struggling to keep afloat and fear the ABS would send them under. The big question was how the society would attempt to reconcile the two, and it promised the debate would inform its options paper, published with little fanfare on 1 November.
Yet this consultation paper stopped short of putting forward proposals that might give further direction to the debate. It certainly covered the pertinent issues arising from the main forms of ABS. It also stated that the society's council considers "it is now right to facilitate some changes", though it would prefer to see stepped or phased changes introduced. But it was surprisingly light on offering pragmatic solutions.
The society could no doubt argue its lack of prescription is a virtue - it is not prejudging the response from the public and will use the consultation, which ends on 31 January, to inform the process. But the Scottish Government still intends to respond to the OFT's recommendations by the end of this year. So is there a danger ministers will move ahead with their decision-making, without the benefit of clear directions emanating from the legal profession?
The profession has been looking to the Law Society to grasp the nettle on this issue, and provide leadership, and some much-needed certainty, for the marketplace.
Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, extended a clear invitation for the profession to take the lead, with the caveat that there was not the luxury of unlimited time. But the problem here appears to be that the Law Society is structured to need lots of time to respond to anything. Any decisions of significance need to be run past committees and its council.
And setting aside the current debate over market reforms, the Law Society's role is about to change markedly. When the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission opens next year, at a date still to be confirmed, it will be unburdened of its role in investigating service complaints from consumers.
Theoretically at least, this should free up resources and allow the society to focus on issues such as alternative business structures and the ongoing debate to overhaul legal education.
The society has statutory duties to regulate and represent the profession, bearing in mind the public interest. To have any hope of doing this effectively - in whatever brave new regulatory world we are about to enter - it will need to get its house in order in 2008.