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High cost of protecting crooked lawyers brings jobs cuts at Law Society of Scotland while Legal Complaints Commission goes on recruitment drive

06 Aug

Law Society of ScotlandThe Law Society is facing job cuts due to lawyers demands for cheaper annual practising certificate. The Law Society of Scotland was today branded “a bunch of expensive wasters” by solicitors, consumer groups and clients after the Society announced earlier this week it would be seeking redundancies at its headquarters at Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh, where over 100 people are employed on everything from promoting the interests of the legal profession to protecting the ever rising tide of ‘crooked lawyers’ in Scotland from complaints by everyone from clients to even High Court judges.

The round of so far ‘voluntary’ redundancies, proposed by the Law Society of Scotland who are rumoured to be seeking savings of up to half a million pounds in its operating budget, was announced earlier this week, after the introduction of a pay freeze earlier in the year, coupled with restrictions on further ‘external recruitment’ after it became clear the current financial downturn was drastically affecting Scotland’s legal profession and the profits of many legal firms (how sad), which led to calls from the membership for a reduction in the annual practising certificate payment by individual solicitors to the Law Society.

Lorna JackCurrent Law Society Chief Exec took over from Douglas Mill who is ‘blamed by many for the poor state of Scotland’s legal profession. The Society’s Chief Executive, Lorna Jack, who replaced Douglas Mill, the former Chief Executive whose policies are being blamed by many for the high level of public antipathy towards Scotland’s legal profession, said in the Law Society’s Press Release : “The economic downturn is affecting our members who fund the Society through their subscriptions. In common with many firms our commercial revenue has decreased. We have to take appropriate steps to ensure that the organisation continues to manage its finances well and operates in a business-like and customer focused way.We are not alone in facing this difficult challenge but it is right and proper that the Society reflects current marketing conditions in its own business planning. I want to be sure that we work with and consult with staff which is why introducing voluntary redundancy is the right step to take at this time.”

Amid loud shrieks of laughter & disbelief from clients caught up in the Law Society’s infamously corrupt regulatory process, Ms Jack went onto claim in the press release that the Law Society is still interested in ‘delivering benefits for the public, Ms Jack continued : “Every element of our business has been re-examined in the planning process with a view to delivering benefits for the profession and the public in a cost effective way. We must retain the skills we need to do the job while reducing employment costs.”

Ian SmartThe current Law Society President Ian Smart failed to mention any measures for protecting clients during downturn. The Law Society of Scotland’s current President, Ian Smart, speaking on the reduction of £100 on the practicing certificate fee to around £565, which is to be brought to the Law Society’s Special General meeting on September 24 and voted on by those who are able to vote, said : “This year we have met a demanding objective to produce a significant reduction in the cost of the practicing certificate, but it has been achieved by carefully working through the budget and planning for 2009/2010. We are very aware of the impact of the recession on the profession and want to keep the cost of practice as low as possible and give our members as much advance notice as possible about proposed costs for next year so that they can plan accordingly.”

Mr Smart, however, played the dumb card when it came to clients best interests, failing to mention anything in that regard at all in his released statement, to no surprise of many, as we all know, clients dont actually count, what counts is profits for legal firms and income for the Law Society !

A spokeswoman for a consumer group countered the statement from the Law Society’s Chief Executive & the President.

She said : “Even in the financial downturn, the Law Society still has a duty to protect clients interests – a duty which is clearly not being achieved. In reality there is little motive on the Law Society’s part to deliver any benefits for the public which may impact on the profits of its members, whose interests always come first.”

From my own experience, and from those of you who have informed me of your cases, the fact is that as things stand with legal services in Scotland, people have more consumer rights & protection when they purchase something from an impromptu street market than clients have when engaging a solicitor to handle their legal interests.

Despite Lorna Jack’s claim the Law Society is still interested in delivering benefits for the public, anyone involved in the debate on regulating the legal profession understands that the lack of consumer protection against rogue solicitors is down to the Law Society of Scotland successfully keeping the issue of the client’s interests within its own control, when only a fully independent regulator and separate legal services users authority to defend and promote the public’s interests with regard to legal services in Scotland will actually help both clients and the legal profession to get along.

A senior solicitor from one of Edinburgh’s leading law firms today commented on the Law Society’s ‘savings plans’, calling them “an overpaid bunch of high living wasters carrying out another exercise at self preservation at the expense of the membership.”

He went onto say : “If the Law Society want to make savings they could start with reducing the costs of the Chief Executive’s office, which currently stand at around £300,000 per annum and at the same time get rid of some of these Director portfolios staffed with remnants from the Mill era, who are on well over £100,000 each per annum.”

“I know many sole practitioners and small High Street legal firms across Scotland who can hardly turn a profit in this downturn, while the Law Society are employing packs of these highly paid and generally useless individuals who are in positions they themselves have created. There are also a few at the Society who as we both know are fixated with protecting rogue lawyers from serious complaints regarding their standards of service, which is not doing the profession any good in these times, where the promotion of better practice and consumer confidence would better serve us.”

He ended by claiming the only way to resolve the huge difficulties Scotland’s legal profession faced was “to dissolve the Law Society of Scotland, hand responsibility of regulation to an independent regulator, and allow local bar associations to promote the rights of their own members, given the Law Society of Scotland had made such a mess of things.”

I can certainly agree with some of those sentiments, although I’m not too sure about the part regarding local bar associations, as I have personally found some of those across Scotland to be just as corrupt as the Law Society itself. I have for instance, come across situations where a client of a local solicitor in a small community or lesser populated region of Scotland who is forced to take issue with the standards of legal service they have received, can find themselves excluded by every law firm in the local bar association when they are forced to undertake the impossible in trying to obtain the services of another legal firm to repair the damage their original solicitor has done to their legal interests.

The only way to overcome such an obstacle would, in theory be for the maligned client to go to another area of Scotland to find a solicitor outwith the sphere of influence of the local bar association in the client’s home area. Now, under the present regime, where the Law Society of Scotland controls regulation and discipline, that is an impossible task, as thousands of Scots clients of solicitors have found over the years.

However, splitting up the Law Society’s responsibilities (minus its powers of regulation) may assist consumers in general to obtain legal representation and at more competitive prices, while lifting a significant burden of costs from the membership of the legal profession, who are all paying for the Law Society to continue the lavish lifestyles of its Directors, Chief Executives and numerous Committees, which do little for anyone except themselves.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailScottish Legal Complaints Commission go on recruitment drive to assist board members ‘on the razzle’. While the Law Society of Scotland have announced cost savings, there is little thought of that at the Scottish legal Complaints Commission, as a recruitment drive gets underway for a Clerk to the Board of Commissioner (Ref CC1), a position which is intended to support the Board of Members in the process of decision-making, including arranging and running hearings and promoting consistency. The latest position at the joint taxpayer-legal profession funded law complaints body involves “managing the SLCC’s portfolio of work, hours of work and the determination of complaints” (that shouldn’t be too difficult with some board members being out on the razzle from time to time),with further support for the Chairing Member of the Board, the Board, the CEO and the Head of Investigations in providing and developing a high quality, efficient complaints handling service” – surely these claims are in jest, given the dismal performance of the SLCC to-date.

So, not a very taxing position by the sounds of it, and the salary is in the region of £35,088 per annum which is around £675 a week .. and at the rate the SLCC are botching up complaints investigations, the latest job offering sounds more like a thumbs twiddling exercise, mingled with the occasional 4 lines on a sheet of A4. Anyone who thinks they can manage that, and help whitewash a few crooked lawyers, well … apply now !

A legal insider expressed dismay at the latest recruitment drive at the SLCC, saying “How many people do this lot need to do their job when all they do is pass complaints back to the Law Society to investigate.The SLCC is a waste of time & money for consumers and the profession who are paying for it.”

A client of a solicitor who has lodged a complaint with the SLCC and is currently experiencing severe difficulties in getting the commission to properly investigate their case said “Even if they have 500 people working at the SLCC all they will do is see to it that bent lawyers get off with a slap on the wrist or the usual complaints whitewash we get from the Law Society.”

Its fairly obvious the legal profession is simply serving itself, and not the public. No matter what the Law Society and even the SLCC now do, they will both be tarnished with the reputation of being the corrupt self regulators the legal profession turns out for its own self interest, proving yet again, cleaning up Scotland’s legal profession has never been needed more than it is today !

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