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COMPLAINTS FLICK: Law Society of Scotland & ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission team up to produce video on how to complain about a rogue lawyer

21 Nov

Legal regulators SLCC and Law Society launch complaints process video. IN A MOVE seen as an attempt to combat publicity about poor regulation of the legal profession and few if any prosecutions of dodgy lawyers ripping off their clients, the Law Society of Scotland and the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) have teamed up to produce a public video explaining the process for making a complaint about a solicitor in Scotland.

However, people who have actual experience of the solicitor complaints process as administer by the Law Society & SLCC have criticised the video as bearing little comparison with reality to how clients of rogue lawyers are treated after making a complaint.

The ‘help’ video, which begins with a claim that most people are happy with their solicitors and have no reason to question services provided, or demands for sky high legal fees without any real evidence of work, can be viewed on the SLCC’s website here: SLCC and Law Society of Scotland joint video on the complaints process or on the Vimeo hosting website directly here: Making a complaint about a solicitor

The video on how to complain about a rogue solicitor appears along with another video clip – Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – Mediation video, also produced by the SLCC which claims to document the process of mediation. However, some users of the mediation service have referred to their mediation experiences as less than satisfactory, and little more than a delaying tactic used by law firms who attempt to escape complaints investigations.

One client involved in a bitter five year struggle with the Law Society described the video as “an attempt to limit a person’s expectation of justice.” He went on to say the video “looks like it has been made by crooks to save crooks”.

The ‘how to’ complain video comes on the heels of revelations that solicitor Clive Franks, a senior partner of Edinburgh based Franks Macdam Brown and a key member of the Law Society of Scotland’s infamous Complaints Committee regime, committed suicide on November 10, 2014.

It has since been revealed in the media the Law Society of Scotland were investigating Clive Franks over fraud allegations relating to client funds. Mr Franks was involved in defending a controversial case involving a challenge to the will of building tycoon Alfred Stewart. It was revealed in the Sunday Mail newspaper Franks was a trustee of a will which was changed at the last minute to cut out members of the family of the deceased.

Law Society Complaints Committees – of which Franks was a key player, form a key role in protecting corrupt lawyers from complaints lodged by members of the public and it is likely the Complaints Committees were consulted in some way on the video productions.

Making a complaint about a solicitor – Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

 

Mediation – Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

 

Commenting on the video, Matthew Vickers, the current Chief Executive of the SLCC said: “Having dealt with legal complaints over the past six years, we appreciate that the current process is complex and can be a difficult one for clients to understand.   I welcome this video – which we have made in partnership with the Law Society of Scotland – as a valuable tool to inform the public about how the legal complaints process works, and the stages within it.”

Carole Ford, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Regulatory Committee, welcomed the video: “The vast majority of people are very happy with the service they receive from their solicitor, but it’s important that those who are not satisfied know that they have somewhere to go, and that there are processes in place that can help resolve any issues.  The Law Society has worked closely with the SLCC on this joint venture and I think we have successfully produced a valuable tool that could go a long way to helping the public understand the complaints process from start to finish.”

Susan McPhee, Citizens Advice Scotland’s Head of Policy and Communications added: “We welcome this video from the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.  Consumers in Scotland need clear routes to resolve issues they have with solicitors – and these routes need to be easily understood by consumers.  This video provides a gateway for consumers to find out what they need to do, and what their solicitors are obliged to do if there is a disagreement.  I hope it is used by consumers to ensure rights are respected and protected.”

MEDIA EXPOSE LAWYERS BEHAVING BADLY:

Legal insiders say the SLCC & Law Society decided to make the video clip in response to increasing media coverage of dodgy solicitors and the public’s reaction to constant legal rip offs and poor regulation which came into focus with the BBC’s Lawyers Behaving Badly programme – which featured reports on poor regulation of Scotland’s legal profession, along with a host of crooked lawyers still going about their business.

Alistair Cockburn, Chair, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Of note in the programme was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) Chairman’s attitude towards solicitors accused of dishonesty in their representation of clients legal affairs. During the programme, it became clear that dishonesty among lawyers in Scotland is treated less severely, compared to how English regulators treat dishonesty.

English QCs speaking on the programme were unequivocal that dishonesty is a striking off offence south of the border, while the appearance through the years in Scotland has been Scots lawyers are simply given a slap on the wrist, or a merit badge for dishonesty by their colleagues in the regulation game.

Sam Poling asks: The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal hears all serious conduct cases against solicitors. Last year they struck off nine of them. But is this robust enough?

Alistair Cockburn Chairman, Scottish solicitors discipline tribunal replies: It is robust in the sense that it doesn’t just give convictions on the basis that somebody’s brought before us charged by the Law Society.  We are mindful, particularly when reminded of the lay members, of a duty to the public.

One is always concerned when there is deception but you can have a situation where solicitors simply lose their place. They make false representations in order to improve their client’s position, not necessarily their own. And you would take that into account in deciding what the penalty was but there’s no suggestion that such conduct wasn’t deemed to be professional as conduct. 

Sam Poling: So there are levels of dishonesty which sit comfortably with you, satisfactorily with you?

Alistair Cockburn: No it’s not a question of saying sitting comfortably with me.  I’ve told you…

Sam Poling: OK that you would accept?

Alistair Cockburn: No I’d be concerned on any occasion that a solicitor was guilty of any form of dishonesty.  One has to assess the extent to which anyone suffered in consequence of that dishonesty.  You have to take into consideration the likelihood of re-offending and then take a decision.  But you make it sound as if it’s commonplace.  It isn’t.  Normally dishonesty will result in striking-off.

English QC’s agree ‘dishonesty’ is a striking off offence no matter what. The SSDT Chairman’s comments on dishonesty astounded viewers, and compared starkly with the comments of the English QC’s who said dishonesty was undoubtedly a striking off offence.

Andrew Hopper QC: “I cant get my head round borrowing in this context. Somebody explain to me how you can borrow something without anyone knowing about it. That’s just taking.”

Andrew Boon Professor of Law, City University, London: “They actually say in the judgement they would have struck him off but the client hadn’t complained.”

Andrew Hopper QC “We’re dealing with a case of dishonesty and that affects the reputation of the profession. I would have expected this to result in striking off.”

Andrew Boon, Professor of Law: “The critical thing is the risk factor. If somebody has been dishonest once the likelihood is that they are going to be dishonest again unless they’re stopped.”

As Sam Poling went on to report: “but he [O’Donnell] wasn’t stopped. The tribunal simply restricted his license so that he had to work under the supervision of another solicitor.”

This article has been updated with new information, and comments from individuals currently involved in complaints investigations being conducted by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the Law Society of Scotland.

If you are making a complaint about a solicitor and feel you are being treated unfairly by the SLCC & Law Society of Scotland, please consider publicising your difficulties, to help protect your own interests and others. You can contact us at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com. Any material provided will be treated as confidential and will not be published without your consent.

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